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Youth Empowerment Model

Youth Empowerment Model

In most communities, youth are a vast untapped resource in the effort to prevent the harm from underage drinking and other issues. Youth empowerment is also a “two-fer”. It promises impacts on two levels:

  • The impact on the community that a group of youth might have as they participate in trying to reduce the harm of problems like underage drinking or tobacco use.
  • The impact on the youth themselves as they attempt to impact their environment. Youth participating in these programs generally become highly informed, develop skills and become very committed to “practicing what they preach”.

There is nothing new about the idea of youth participating in substance abuse prevention activities in a community or, more commonly, in a school environment. However, often these are loosely organized club activities and may result in two or three activities being done during the year – usually at graduation time or during red ribbon week.  These groups are a positive influence but they generally lack the intensity of a youth empowerment program.

In other cases, community coalitions have youth representatives sitting “at the table” of an adult coalition to “provide the youth perspective”. However, often these youth can be few in number, are sometimes bored by the adultness of the activities, and do not always have the opportunity to become deeply involved. In the worst cases, they are simply token-youth because a grant or funder requires “youth participation”.


As a result, the way youth sometimes participate in drug prevention lacks intensity in skills development, training, and structure. In many instances the adult advisors who would be in a position to provide these things are themselves under-prepared to guide the youth to do more. When youth are participating in a low intensity school club, or are the token voice in an adult coalition, there is involvement. However, youth involvement is not the same thing as youth empowerment. The One Voice Youth Empowerment Model was developed by to address those common shortcomings.

The difference between a “club” in a high school that does some drug prevention activities and a youth empowerment program is the intensity of the training and skill development. It would be the same as the difference between after school intramural or pickup basketball and the varsity basketball team. The varsity team would have a greater emphasis on coaching, skill development, and sophistication in planning. You don’t get into the game (take action) until you demonstrate a high level of knowledge and skills – which are constantly honed. It is the same principal in a youth empowerment program.


To achieve empowerment under the Dover Youth Empowerment Model you need three core elements in place:

The Model
The Model

If traditional youth prevention activities are the equivalent of a club, this model is approached with the mindset of a varsity sport. Just as a basketball or football program would do, we:

  • Provide each participant with a core base of knowledge and command of the issues;
  • Identify core skills needed to successfully take action (such as public speaking, message development, media literacy, working with the press, legislative skills);
  • Regularly and rigorously drill on those skills over and over again before taking action;
  • Provide an opportunity to put the skills into action (deliver the press conference, give the presentation, record the radio PSA, speak to the legislative committee); and,
  • Insure consistency of action and coordination of youth and staff by providing a written “playbook”; which in our case is the One Voice Youth Empowerment Toolkit.

All three parts are critical to achieve true youth empowerment and preferably in the order described above. Consider a situation where youth are asked to pass out palm cards about underage drinking to pedestrians at an event being planned by an adult coalition. If the students have not been given the background info and a real understanding of the issues involved, their participation may be “helpful” to the adults, but they are not empowered.

In the previous example, the adults may take credit for “youth participation”, but in reality the youth were just performing a mechanical task for the adults. When youth are involved in prevention activities and do not understand the issues, problems and consequences involved – they are not learning to assess problems and consider solutions.

At the same time, if the students are knowledgeable about a problem but the skills are not well developed, they have missed an opportunity to learn and are likely to be ineffective. There is a correct way and an incorrect way to teach a class, write a press release or create a radio PSA. Youth who get in front of an audience and speak or perform poorly are just as ineffective as adults who are unprepared.

Knowledge > Skills > Action

This template drives our entire program. Every action project or initiative is examined through the lens of:

  • What knowledge do the student members need to understand the problem?
  • What skills do they need to take action effectively in the adult world?

The level of knowledge we aim for on any given issue the students will take action on is:  More knowledgeable than the typical adult. We don’t try to have students know everything about every drug. That isn’t realistic for any of us. We try to bring them to a level where they can legitimately feel that they have a level of expertise on the subject that is above the average person. As expertise develops, students begin to see potential solutions to the problem and action steps that can be taken.

Youth Leaders
Youth Leaders

Before taking action, we assess what skills the Youth to Youth students need in order to take the action at a high level of proficiency. This is a critical element of this Model of empowerment. Too often kids are put in a position to act without having the required skills developed. We end up saying “they did a good job – for a bunch of kids”. Empowered youth, who have had effective skills training, do a good job – period.

Youth to Youth starts core advocacy skills training in the summer before 6th grade and never stops. Students are coached on public speaking, media skills and other skills right away. By 8th grade we expect a member to have better speaking skills than the typical senior in high school and better than many adults speaking before a crowd.

The Knowledge > Skills > Action approach is the heart of the One Voice Youth Empowerment Model. If you are interested in additional information about our Model, please check out our Youth Empowerment Model Visual or Contact Us.

The One Voice Youth Empowerment Model was endorsed in 2013 by the State of New Hampshire as an Evidence-Based Program. To read more about this, visit Research and Evaluation.

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