Wisconsin youth are tackling health challenges in their communities head-on with a program called Youth Advocates for Community Health (YACH). Partnerships between youth and adults are central to this program. It is organized by educators from the University of Wisconsin – Madison Division of Extension SNAP-Ed. Engaged youth also play a big role in leading projects.
Youth working with the program examine and identify community health issues that are important to them. Then, they connect with stakeholders and design a plan for action. Finally, they implement and evaluate their efforts. Through these projects, youth share their voices. Community leaders appreciate the points of view of the youth, who are an under-represented population group.
“YACH builds leadership skills and gets the next generation of kids concerned about finding systems solutions to complex issues, such as the obesity epidemic,” said Josset Gauley, FoodWIse evaluation specialist and one of the program’s coordinators.
Since 2017, YACH has worked with 80 youth in 17 different communities across the state. One example of a YACH project happened in 2017. Youth worked with a local food retailer called the Willy Street Coop in Madison, Wisconsin. The program youth worked with the Co-op to help residents of an under-served neighborhood increase their use of food assistance programs. This allowed families to stretch their food dollars and buy healthy foods.
“I hope that we can be some kind of help for people on the Northside [of Madison, WI],” said one Dane County youth. “At the end of this, I hope to see people doing more grocery shopping at the Willy Street Coop. And just using their local grocery store to their advantage.”
Extensive evaluation occurred in years one and two. Pre- and post-surveys collected information about youth attitudes and knowledge of:
- Sense of community, connectedness, and adult support
- Food safety
- Things that make healthy eating easier and more difficult
- Physical activity options in their communities
In 2018, results of evaluation showed significant change in the following areas:
- Youth sense of community
- Knowledge of barriers to physical activity in the community
- Knowledge of food assistance programs
- Behavior to wash fruits and vegetables before eating
YACH also measured program impact by recording action plans developed by youth, number of partnerships formed, and reflections from youth, community partners, and Extension educators.
“If young people like the ones I met in this group can find their way into leadership positions, this world may just have a shot of being the inclusive place most of us wish it to be. You can't just wish and pray though. You have to work. This group felt like they were ready to work, and it was an honor to spend my time with them.”
- Robert Halstead, owner/resources coordinator at Willy St. Co-op
The SNAP-Ed Evaluation Framework indicators addressed by this evaluation are Healthy Eating (MT1), Physical Activity and Reduced Sedentary Behavior (MT3), Organizational Partnerships (ST7), Nutrition Supports (MT5) and Physical Activity and Reduced Sedentary Behavior Supports (MT6).