The West End Youth Project has used the latter approach in a three-year collaboration with the Burrard Health Unit, the West End Community Centre and UBC's Institute of Health Promotion Research (IHPR).
Funded by the B.C. Health Research Foundation and the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, the project has sought the input of about 123 young people between the ages of 12 and 20. The goal has been greater youth empowerment -- getting youth actively working on issues that are important to them.
So far, the project has led to a buddy system between grades 7 and 8 students, a youth-run community council, the creation of a youth-run newspaper, temporary space for a youth resource centre, and the election of youth to community boards and associations.
"These initiatives are aimed at building support systems in the community as well as self-esteem, confidence and life skills," says Margaret Cargo, a researcher with IHPR.
Project participants also realized that in order for youth to put their ideas into action, adults and youth had to work in partnership and share in the decision-making and leadership.
As a follow-up to the project, Cargo and youth development worker Carrie Samoil are developing a video and accompanying training manual for adult youth workers illustrating how youth and adults can better work together to achieve common goals. The materials will emphasize a shift in how adults traditionally work with youth.
"We recognized an obvious need for more resources aimed at practitioners and how they can augment their own skills, attitudes and ways of interacting with young people," says Samoil.
Samoil says resources currently available on the subject presume that adults have the necessary background and skills.
"These materials are written from the perspective that adults know and understand the issues of teens today, know how to speak to them and how their behavior effects the youth they are working with," she says. "As adults we think we can remember what it was like to be 16, but many of us really can't."
Cargo and Samoil will use a grant from the Vancouver Foundation to produce a 10-minute video and training manual. Their hope is to have these resources available to a range of professionals from teachers and youth counselors to child-care workers and social service agencies.