A statewide youth advisory council is expected to release recommendations this fall on how to invest $1 million to support school and community recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) this past summer appointed youth aged 15-19 to serve on the council and lead decision making for the recovery funding investment. OHA has partnered with REAP Inc. to facilitate and provide leadership development to the group.
OHA recruited high-school aged youth from across the state and received hundreds of applicants. OHA and REAP selected 20 youth representing 12 counties and 19 schools. Fifty percent of the youth represent a rural or frontier zip-code. All members of the council identify with a community disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 including communities of color, Tribal communities, people with disabilities, LGBTQ2SIA+ communities and youth involved with the child welfare system.
“Our goal is for students to want to access our services," COVID-19 School Based Recovery Funds Program Coordinator Lev Schneidman said. "The way to do that is to build our youth-adult partnerships and listen to what youth around Oregon are saying they need right now. We are beyond excited to be partnering with REAP, an organization with over 20 years of experience providing multicultural youth empowerment and leadership."
Since their formation in June, the group has met four times and has already established values related to advancing health equity in the wake of the pandemic.
The group members began identifying several needs created and exacerbated by COVID-19, including:
- Difficulties with the transition back to in-person education – including issues with student behavior and challenges with socialization.
- Increased need for mental health and other healthcare services.
- Lack of engagement opportunities in schools and communities – fewer clubs, classes, and events.
- Food insecurity.
- Housing affordability and instability.
- Financial instability due to job loss or issues finding and maintaining work.
- Racism and other forms of oppression.
The advisory council is also supported by 13 community-based organizations from across the state including the Center for African Immigrants and Refugees in Multnomah County, Citizens for Safe Schools in Klamath County and Rogue Climate and Rogue Action Center in Jackson County.
“I am humbled by the students and the experiences they bring to the table as we shape out a path for the future of councils and for COVID relief," REAP Inc. Strategic Initiatives Manager Anderson DuBoise said. "There is so much care and passion infused into every conversation about how to better the entirety of our state, not just the larger cities.”
The council is set to expire in a year. However, the council opportunity will create a foundation for an equity-focused approach to youth engagement and advisory within the agency.
“We believe the experience will create structures that help embed youth voice in larger and longer-term statewide health policy and program decision,” Schneidman said.
The youth advisory council is made up of students from
- Hood River