Every year, our organization, BYTE – Empowering Youth Society, conducts a “Yukon Youth Want…” campaign where we ask youth “what do you Yukon youth want?” We collect the answers in a photo essay and compile the results in a letter to our local politicians. The letter serves as a reminder that youth are paying attention, they are engaged and they care about their community. We ask our local leaders to respond or share their platforms as it relates to what Yukon youth want.
Over several years of doing this campaign, we have noticed several common themes that have emerged year after year. Issues such as access to more mental health resources, affordable housing and youth homelessness, food security, access to education including lower tuition fees, better bus schedules, affordable internet, free childcare, sex education that is inclusive for LGBTQ2S+ and non-binary folks, reconciliation, the rights of Indigenous Peoples, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, protection of our natural resources and climate change continue to be issues impacting youth regularly.
But what would it look like if instead of turning to our leaders for solutions, youth led the charge? What if Yukon youth not only told leaders what they want but also had the resources to support their own solutions?
It’s this question (and many more!) that led us to the Tamarack Institute and the Communities Building Youth Futures Project. Amidst a global pandemic, our community met for a Virtual Site Visit with Tamarack and we were blown away by the turnout. Over 40 stakeholders from Whitehorse met with us to explore the project and we are excited to be moving forward with the initiative!
Our next hurdle is to work towards creating our Common Agenda and we keep circling back to that question – what if youth led the charge? Our Partnership Table has been meeting and we are all passionate service providers with amazing ideas to improve youth outcomes but we are taking time to pause and reflect if our ideas are on the same page with what youth want. Are the programs we think are worth trying, the same ones youth want to be a part of? We would rather our Common Agenda and Implementation Plan be testing and piloting innovative ideas by youth (not for youth). We want youth to be involved from the ground up – helping us determine the WHAT we want to achieve as much as the HOW we want to do it.
As such, we are looking forward to taking some of our initial data and consultation back to them. Our Partnership Table has heard from youth through various events that fostering a sense of belonging is important for their success. Our task now is to hear from young people what belonging and success look like for them and work with them from there.
I'd love to hear how other communities are including youth in their Common Agenda work, feel free to leave a comment below.