Getting Started

Youth On Boards Initiative

The Northfield Youth on Boards initiative was launched by Healthy Community Initiative (HCI), the City of NorthfieldNorthfield Public Schools, and Youthprise.

Here is some additional information on launching a similar initiative. For more information contact Meleah Follen.

Getting a Youth on Boards program started:

Step 1: Garner support among the adults in the community. In particular, you will need the support of: the City Administrator, the Mayor or other high-ranking elected official; the Superintendent and/or School Board Chair; and the Executive Director’s and/or Board Chairs of local non-profits.

Use this document to help facilitate your conversations.

Step 2: Recruit youth to participate in the program. Start with asking teachers and school administrators for the names of youth that would benefit from participating. Encourage them to consider traditional and non-traditional leadership skills – and to recommend a diverse cohort of young people. Survey the youth in programs that you already have up and running and gather from them names of their peers that would be interested in the Youth on Boards program. Send these potential participants a letter from the Mayor and a well-known non-profit executive inviting them to apply to the program.

Include a simple application that describes the potential boards they can serve on including their usual meeting times.

Step 3: Once the youth have applied and you have determined which Boards/Commissions they will be serving on, the next step is informing the youth and also the City, School Board, and the Non-Profit leaders which youth will be serving with them during the coming year. Here are examples of letters sent to youth members and Northfield and Cannon Valley League of Women Voters informing them of their new youth Board members.

Step 4: Before youth can begin to serve on a Board or Commission, it is important that they understand what they are committing to. We run general orientations for all the youth selected to serve. Prior to attending orientation, items that require a parent/guardian signature are mailed out and the youth member is told to bring these signed documents to the orientation session. The mailed documents include:

Step 5: General Orientation – This is the time to explain to the youth members the general expectations of the program. In presenting an overview of the program, spend time talking about: the important role they will have in their community; how they can gather input from their peers and bring that back to the boards they are sitting on to amplify youth voice; and who will be there to support them throughout the year. It is also a good time to gather contact information, have them sign a commitment form, and get their picture to build an online directory. Forms to help you through this general orientation are here:

Step 6: One on One Orientations. After youth have been through a general orientation, the next step is to facilitate a meeting with the youth board member, the adult Youth on Boards Coordinator, and the leadership of the board or commission they will be serving on. This may be the staff member assigned to the board or commission or the volunteer board or commission Chair. These meetings should be held prior to their first meeting and serve as a way for the youth member to:

  • meet one or two adult members of the board/commission they will be serving on so when they first walk into a meeting, they will know someone,
  • for the youth to ask questions about where, when and how meetings are conducted, and
  • for the adult members to share an overview of the work that the Board or Commission is currently engaged in.

The Youth on Boards Coordinator plays a critical role in these meetings by helping the youth engage with the adults, and guiding the conversation so that the youth member feels comfortable and receives information at a level that makes sense to them when first coming on to a Board or Commission. This document lays out some general questions to help guide these conversations.

Step 7: Supporting youth through their service. There are two main components to supporting youth in their service.

The first is ensuring that they are attending the meetings and are prepared to do so. Each week, postcards are mailed to youth that have a meeting the following week. This acts as a reminder both to the youth and the adults in their household that they are expected at a meeting. See sample postcard here, printed 4 per page. In addition, the night before their meeting, a text message is sent to the youth with a simple reminder that says:

“Quick reminder that you have a meeting of XXX Board tomorrow at XX time at XX location. If you can’t be there, please let me and XXX (the name of the Board chair) know. After your meeting don’t forget to fill out your post meeting survey.”

The second component is helping youth process what they are hearing and learning in their meetings, answering questions for them, or helping them find answers to questions, and helping them identify areas where greater youth input on an issue their group is discussing would be beneficial. The easiest avenue for doing this is via a post-meeting survey. All youth participants are required to complete this after each meeting.

We also recommend checking-in with youth via face-to-face meetings once every 4-6 weeks. These are quick 10-15-minute conversations to ensure that they are understanding what is happening in their meetings and receiving the support they need. This is also where obstacles – from scheduling to transportation – can emerge and can be solved.