Hero Image

Engaging Youth in Community Change

The Issue

Youth are often viewed as problems to be solved or passive clients of social programs, rather than active citizens who can help communities plan and solve problems. But California communities are finding that youth can be tapped as a potent resource for community change. At issue is how to craft successful approaches and strategies to youth engagement that work with California’s diverse youth populations.

What Has ANR Done?

Partnering with the Sierra Health Foundation, UC Davis Cooperative Extension specialist Dave Campbell and project scientist Nancy Erbstein led a team of researchers examining how local communities engage youth in community change. This was part of an evaluation of how seven Sacramento area communities implemented the foundation’s REACH youth program. Settings included low-income and racially diverse urban neighborhoods; wealthy, mostly white suburbs; and economically mixed, ethnically diverse, rural communities. The researchers identified factors associated with successful community outcomes. For example, the quality of the staff who work with youth and their community ties and connections are critical, particularly in vulnerable youth populations. Finding meaningful ways to involve schools and parents helped the success. Youth engagement in community change yields benefits, but requires more time, resources, focus, and commitment.

The Payoff

Recommendations Shape Foundation Youth Investment Strategies

Research led to shifts in foundation and community practices, and Sierra Health Foundation investment strategies. REACH initially targeted youth ages 10-15, but including older youth allowed for greater continuity of engagement and community impact. Also, local coalitions were encouraged to set fewer and clearer community change priorities, for deeper impact. Findings also led the foundation to emphasize on-site coaching and technical assistance to grantees, to help tailor strategies to local circumstances. Overall, the UC evaluation team helped inform the next generation of youth programs at Sierra Health Foundation, which invests millions of dollars in the 26-county Northern California region. In particular, it contributed to focusing foundation investments on vulnerable youth populations.

Clientele Testimonial

A Sierra Health Foundation representative said: “I appreciate your insights, flexibility and continued commitment to conduct an evaluation that is thoughtful and useful for the coalitions, Sierra Health and the field itself.”


Supporting Unit: Human & Community Development

David Campbell, Community Studies Specialist, UC Davis, (530) 754-4328; dave.c.campbell@ucdavis.edu