About 8 years ago, The Matthews House created a Youth Advisory Board (YAB). The Youth Advisory Board works with the Department of Human Services (DHS) because the voice of the youth impact how DHS makes decisions. Our Youth Advocate on staff was youth in the system herself and understands what those involved in Youth Advisory Board are experiencing. Here’s what she has to say about the program:
What is the role of a Youth Advocate?
Youth Advocates help youth in Larimer County find their voice while developing peer leaders and improving their overall experience with DHS. Through the Youth Advocate’s role with the youth, we’re able to increase self-advocacy in the system, develop peer leadership and career skills, decrease the average placement changes in Larimer County, develop more life-long natural supports, and work with youth to accomplish goals.
What is the Youth Advisory Board?
The Youth Advisory Board is led by a group of four 16-21 year olds who want to make a difference in their lives and the lives of other youth by engaging in foster care training, DHS meetings, and community service projects.
The YAB gives youth confidence and helps them find their identity by speaking into the system to advocate for kids just like them. Members of the program have the opportunity to gain experience in leadership, public speaking, organization, and community service.
What is the goal of the Youth Advisory Board and what does the YAB accomplish?
We hope to build leadership qualities and educate each other about the different struggles youth go through and empower our youth to speak up. The youth involved have a chance to engage in public speaking and leadership training that are necessary for the youth to continue to grow as leaders.
Our desire is that the YAB members will advocate for other youth in foster care or the justice system and be leaders in our community. Hopefully the youth will be empowered to one day change legislative laws regarding foster care and the justice system if deemed necessary.
What has meant the most to you during your time with the Youth Advisory Board?
One thing that really touched my heart was the suicide awareness walk we participated in. We supported families and friends and people who have struggled themselves with suicide or ideations or attempts. We walked alongside everyone on a Saturday morning. Everyone was able to pick beaded necklaces and the color of the beads had a specific personal meaning (such as blue meant they supported the cause and green meant they struggled personally). Our youth were honest in the beads they selected, understanding that even though they were there to support our community, our community was there to support them too.
The YAB is important to me because I understand that moving forward and making changes in my life and the lives of others is crucial. I believe that engaging in new opportunities that open doors and empower youth to be something they didn’t believe they could be or doing something they only wished they could do is what helps youth find value in themselves and the world.