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Youth Development & Engagement Resources


Engaging youth in civic opportunities and programs offer a variety of benefits. Municipal agencies better understand the community through the lens of youth, strengthening intergenerational relationships. In addition, youth gain valuable advocacy skills to become active citizens including voting, volunteering and leading. The resources below will help you successfully engage with a diverse array of youth to bring their authentic voice and perspectives to community issues.  When initiating or implementing a GEY model consider engaging your community’s disconnected youth, youth in and out of high school, as well as foster youth, English language learners and lower-income youth. 

What does it mean to be a “Disconnected Youth”?

We define disconnected youth as youth ages 16-24 who are any one (or many) of the below categories:

  • Foster youth
  • Homeless youth
  • English language learners (ELL)
  • Youth involved in the criminal justice system
  • Youth attending continuation schools
  • Youth struggling in school and behind academically
  • Youth with mental health issues
  • Youth exposed to violence and trauma.

Additional definitions are available from:

Intentional Outreach

We ask Governments Engaging Youth sites to intentionally think about which youth they engage and which youth they may not be able to serve, and the importance of serving all youth, not just those who naturally excel or who have many privileges others may not experience.

Engaging Disconnected Youth Takes Additional Planning and Strategy

  • Schools/counties often have staff dedicated to working with youth subgroups. These can be good resources to help you understand these subgroups as well as help you access them. A personal ask from a social worker, or school staff person to an individual (disconnected) youth, to become engaged in a GEY program could be a good recruitment strategy. Consider:
    • Foster youth coordinators
    • Homeless coordinators
    • English language learner leads
    • Principals at continuation high schools
    • Child protection services staff
    • Probation department staff
    • Public health/behavioral health staff
    • Local Workforce Investment Board (WIB) staff
    • WIB program operators who run Workforce Innovation and Opportunity (WIAO) programs, etc.
  • Youth who have experienced trauma and lifelong racism, may have internalized behaviors and self-images that do not make it obvious to them that they are and can be leaders. These youth may not respond well to a flyer that says “become a leader or learn leadership.” Talking to them about what leadership means, communicating that everyone can be a leader and helping them take baby steps to gain confidence to want to become engaged. Breakdown leadership into discrete tasks that they can accomplish, building off one success and then another.
  • If there are disconnected youth leaders already engaged in your program or in the community, work with them to reach out to their peers. Peer-to-peer recruitment is most effective.
  • Go to where the youth are and get to know them. With relationships, over time, trust is fostered. With trust, there is a greater chance that they will be willing to participate.
  • Help them see what is in it for them: Jobs, contacts and skills.
  • Have supports available. Think about bus passes, free business/dress clothes, free summer food, and/or mentors or case managers to check in with the youth.
  • Provide pre-GEY activities to help disconnected youth build their skills and confidences. Do not assume youth know about the work world or work etiquette. Teach the basics (see the New World of Work’s resources for high school students). Another example is to take youth to a local government agency facility (city hall, county board, school district, etc.) on a field trip so they even know what is meant by a flyer that says Summer at City Hall or Governments Engaging Youth.
  • Some youth are very resilient and overcome adversity more easily than others. Don’t give up on them, be persistent, be empathetic, ask them if you can coach them.
  • Educate yourself about disconnected youth, know the communities they come from, the path they walk.

Ways Municipal Entities Can Engage Youth/Students in Civic Opportunities

  • Tours of city hall and other municipal buildings
  • One day field trip to city hall to learn about how government is structured, who works for government, interview city staff or participate in a mock council simulation
  • Invite youth to attend county board or city council meetings to observe or to help out with roles to support the clerk (collect speaker cards, hand out agendas, etc.)
  • Promote the importance of youth becoming registered to vote, hold voter registration drives for teens and parents, partner with local county registrars to hold mock voting sessions and how to read a ballot statement
  • Hold youth job fairs
  • Provide volunteer opportunities to youth
  • Provide internships for teens and disconnected youth
  • Provide job shadows
  • Allow for agency staff to speak in classrooms about what they do
  • Hold Teen Town Hall meetings to engage youth voice in community issues
  • Develop a youth council
  • Partner with a classroom teacher to help students study a real community issue and come up with recommendations on solutions
  • Hold a year-round or summer program at a county government agency, special district or city hall where youth learn about how local government operates, who you would if you had a neighborhood issue, study a local issue and develop recommendations that youth present at a mock board/council meeting, and/or provide job shadows or internships in a municipal department
  • Take tours of the local court houses and chamber and discuss what it means to serve on a jury
  • Work with local sheriffs, police, courts and schools to host mock courts, or develop peer courts
  • Mentor youth by partnering with school-based career pathways or through community programs

Youth Engagement & Development Resources

Student Work Examples

Staff Training on Youth Development and Orientation on How to Engage Youth


Foster Youth

Cities, counties and school districts can and should make a difference for emancipating foster youth. Local government and schools can work together to help shepard foster teens into successful adulthood. Doing this will be a service to foster youth and to society as a whole. Cities, counties and schools can work collectively and comprehensively to overcome the piecemeal nature of supports now available to emancipating youth.

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