By Angie B., Alexandra House Youth Services Advocate
Near the end of the summer, Alexandra House Youth Services hosted the 2021 Youth Leadership Institute. Our Youth Leadership Institute is a chance for high-school-aged young people to dive deeper into topics surrounding teen dating violence, domestic violence, and sexual assault. It’s an amazing opportunity to gain advocacy skills and develop a youth-driven advocacy project used within our school year programming!
Previous YS teams had hosted this event before with great success, so Mallory and I knew we had a good structure to work off. As we were interviewing the applicants, we quickly realized what a special group we had lined up. Their previous experience and passion inspired us to make this a great event for them. There was some initial nervousness as we organized a timeline for each day, realizing how much information we had for them and all the activities we had to learn in preparation.
On the first day of the Institute, as we played ice breakers and slowly moved into the material, we eventually got more comfortable with each other. We were able to find comfort in the shared awkwardness. As the week went on, we got to see their personalities and strengths shine through. As is common with this type of work and event, there were some heavy material days. However, their desire to learn how to advocate and build their knowledge-pushed them through.
In the second week, the students were tasked to produce a resource to educate the community about domestic violence, sexual violence, and relationship violence. They quickly leaned into their strengths as social media users to create a whole week of social media content for the YS Instagram page. They named it the Youth Leadership Institute Instagram Takeover: Education Week. The students were very purposeful in covering many different sub-topics. They made content for the trans community, feminist-related topics, bystander intervention, normalization of experience sharing, and so much more. They took all they learned and expanded on it to create fun and interactive content for their community.
The coolest part of this event from a facilitator’s perspective was watching them weave their personalities, aesthetics, and taste into each post. Even the fonts they chose revealed pieces of their personalities. Although it was a collective effort, each student got a turn to create at least one day of content, captions, and hashtags. My personal favorite experience was the closing ceremony. Each student was given a small stipend and certificate for their participation. They cheered for one another, and each student got very well-deserved individual attention as they received their honors. It was a hot ending to the two-week institute. I am thrilled to share this experience next summer with the new YS team members and participants!