The California Youth Advocacy Conference Recap: Empowering Youth for Change and Connection
In July, Breathe CA staff and Youth Advisory Board members had the opportunity to attend the California Youth Advocacy Network’s (CYAN) annual Youth Advocacy Conference at the gorgeous Happy Valley Conference Center in Santa Cruz. With towering redwoods and light fog, the setting offered a refreshing escape from the scorching Sacramento heat and the conference provided the opportunity for youth attendees to engage, learn and connect with like-minded peers from across the state. The conference’s core focus was to strengthen youth engagement in local policy, systems, and environmental change efforts, and empower young people with the skills and tools to create positive change in their communities.
Over the four-day conference, attendees were given plenty of opportunities to explore the area around the conference center, the pool, hikes on the property, arts and crafts activities, and games in addition to the workshops provided by CYAN and other advocacy activities. Our group joined another youth coalition, went on a short but very steep hike to the top of the property taking in a beautiful overlook, and learned exactly what poison oak looks like when we stepped on it! Luckily, the soles of our shoes took the brunt of it.
One of the great experiences of the conference was the connections that we were able to make with other participants from organizations with similar focuses as BREATHE’s work. We were able to share ideas for events, recruitment and retention for youth programs and youth participants were able to form friendships and connections with their peers and hear experiences from others who have extensive experience with advocacy work.
Aside from free time to experience their surroundings and bond with other participants, the main structure of the conference days were a combination of workshops that focused on coalition planning, Smoke-Free outdoor air and Tobacco Retail License policies, data collection, developing an advocacy strategy, using a Midwest Academy Strategy Chart, meeting with decision makers, and using media for advocacy. These workshops were interspersed between time for youth groups to collaborate and work through the process of preparing for making a public comment to a Board of Directors through the process of Live Action Roleplay activities.
The fabulous CYAN staff, youth board, and volunteers created a fictional California county based off real data from communities in CA and really flexed their acting chops playing members of the Board of Directors, Tribal Council, community members, and business owners in the fictional community. Youth participants were able to participate in a park observation survey (featuring citizens “smoking” bubbles in the park to track), a retail location survey, key informant interviews, and one-on-one meetings with CYAN staff acting in their fictional roles. This provided opportunities for youth participants to put their new knowledge and skills into practice and a safe and low-stakes environment. Participants were able to walk through all steps of an advocacy cycle, from forming a fictional coalition with other participants, to collecting data to analyze the problem in the community and formulating their presentations for Board Members, and finally being able to present to the mock Board of Directors and other conference participants in a public comment forum.
The CYAN Youth Advocacy Conference was a valuable experience for our youth participants and staff who were able to attend. It was unforgettable to see so many driven youth in one place, collaborating on ways to change their communities for the better and make lasting impacts. I can’t wait to see what they accomplish with their coalitions armed with these new experiences, connections, skills, and confidence. We can’t wait for next year!