Written by Vicki Gist, Executive Director for Keep Sugar Land Beautiful. In this Affiliate of the Month blog, we asked KSLB about their extremely successful Youth Advisory Board and how other affiliates can engage youth in their respective communities in the same way.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your community?:
A: Sugar Land is the state’s 49th largest city with a population of 111,026 (both per the 2020 census). Sugar Land was founded as a sugar plantation in the mid-1800s and incorporated in 1959. Sugar Land the, also called “Sweetest City in Texas”, is sweet, real, and refined! Sugar Land is a very diverse community, and citizen satisfaction surveys indicated 94% of residents are very satisfied or satisfied with the quality of life in Sugar Land. Visitors and residents of Sugar Land can obtain “Sugar Packets”, on their phone, which includes ideas for fun things to do with discounts. There’s also plenty to do outside in any of our 27 city parks!
Q: How did the Youth Advisory Board come to be?:
A: The idea for our Youth Advisory Board began organically in 2007. I had one high school student that was volunteering and I began bouncing around program ideas with her. I then asked if she had a couple of friends that would be interested in volunteering. At about the same time, a student from another school contacted me for guidance with some great ideas. I knew I had access to some incredible youth passion and talent, so the first KSLB Youth Advisory Board was created!
High schools in our school districts often have very different campuses and could benefit from sharing eco-programs and ideas. I also knew that students have great ideas, but often don’t know how to advance those ideas. Our first YAB was formed with 11 members from 5 high school campuses. Our average YAB is 7-8 members each year that represent 5 different campuses. This size board works best for our community. The members form a tight bond and work well together. Our youth board meets with the Executive Director monthly, but the line of communication is always open. Our program has continued to grow each year but has been successful and active since 2007. Our members function in many ways: provide youth perspectives, select and complete independent projects, give presentations, create social media videos, create virtual educational videos and presentations, recruit volunteers, assist at events, share campus programs, brainstorm, and more! In order to give each student experience as board officers, officers are rotated each month. Each month, one member creates the agenda and runs the meeting, another member creates and leads three-team builders, and another member takes minutes. They volunteer for a job for the next month during our meeting.
Q: How does the Youth Advisory Council work and benefit KSLB?:
A: Our YAB is extremely beneficial for KSLB. Members brainstorm ideas, provide input on existing and new programs, recruit volunteers, give presentations, and represent KSLB throughout Sugar Land. We feel having a youth perspective and engagement is very important. Our YAB accepts any challenge or opportunity and always knocks it out of the park!
Q: How does KSLB keep the youth members engaged/motivated?
A: Keeping the lines of communication open are key. They know they may contact me via text, email, or call anytime. No one is sitting on an idea or a problem for a month, we can begin working right away. Our members have a passion for our environment and making a difference so keeping them motivated and engaged is easy. They know their participation is appreciated and important.
Q: What has been the impact on youth council members?:
A: One of our goals was to mentor our YAB members and provide opportunities for them to meet and work with the government and businesses. At the first meeting of each year, I ask why the members want to serve on the board and what they hope to gain. At the last meeting, of each year, I ask what each member learned, if improvements are needed, and what was most valuable. We typically hear how appreciative they are of the opportunity, how much they learned, how to vet and develop an idea, and how to work to obtain change. Former YAB members have set up eco-organizations on their college campuses. One former member attended college in China and asked me to help him with the steps he should take for approval and the programs he might be able to implement. He was successful! He created eco-programs in his company after college too. Other members have also continued to work on environmental issues in college and after. They continue to check in from time to time!
Q: Lessons learned in starting the program and any missteps affiliates should avoid:
A: For our community, having a large board didn’t work as well as a smaller board. Having 6-8 members allows the members to connect and form a bond so they become a strong team. Interview each candidate thoroughly, make sure they have time available to devote to this very active board. At our first meeting each year, we do a web of life activity so each member can visually see that each on of them needs to contribute in order for the board to be successful.
Q: Any other tips for starting youth councils elsewhere?:
First and foremost…try it! I can’t begin to express how wonderful it is to work with our YAB. Determine your vision and plan (What do you want for your community?). Carefully select members (written application and interviews). Establish open lines of communication. Be very clear with your expectations. Meet monthly, brainstorm, work together, discuss and use their ideas if possible. Start small and grow the program together. Appreciate new ideas and viewpoints. Let the board members know how important they are. Contact KSLB if you have questions or need help…We are always eager to help a new youth board. We are a team and support each other…we all want to succeed!