Youth Voice in Public Health

Updates From the Youth Alliance for a Healthier Alaska

Mission and Purpose

The Youth Alliance for a Healthier Alaska (YAHA) is a group of diverse and energetic teens, ages 14-18, from across the state of Alaska who are interested in health and shaping how our state responds to youth health issues. YAHA is a Youth-Adult partnership!

Where Did YAHA Come From?

YAHA was established in 2009 to advise the Adolescent Health program and other Division of Public Health programs. In the 2011 school year YAHA began designing interventions, with support from community agencies, to improve the lives of adolescents in Alaska.

The 2016-2017 YAHA application process closed in May and we are happy to report seven new members from Anchorage, Palmer, Unalaska, with one returning member. This year’s focus continues to be offering professional-level youth feedback and engaging a broader base of community health partners. We will be looking at the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey data to drive our community action projects.

For more information, please visit our website.

The 2015-2016 YAHA Session in Review

Strategic Planning- Promoting Healthy Relationships

YAHA conducted their community health strategic planning a little differently this year utilizing the Six Areas of Health Literacy curriculum created by the New Mexico Department of Health, Office of School and Adolescent Health. After defining the word “health,” the team agreed that the World Health Organization's definition, “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease” along with being of healthy mind, body and spirit are adequate descriptions of health.

At the orientation, each member listed characteristics of the six areas of health, along with any barriers that can get in the way of optimal health in each area.

6 Areas of Health:

Financial, Educational/Learning, Spiritual (Soul), Mental (Thoughts and Emotions), Physical Body, Social (Relationships)

Here's an example of one of the areas:

The Social/Relational health area is about building healthy and strong connections with people around you like your peers, family, caring adults at school and in your community. It’s about showing others respect through your words and actions without judging or stereotyping them. YAHA brainstormed actions that they believe assist in developing social and relationship health: being happy, effective communication, being encouraging, having trust, being honest, making time for friends and family, having family support, having a pet, having positive peer pressure, and developing relationships.

YAHA members also noted their perceived barriers to healthy relationships and social well-being: school/work, distance, other relationships, jealousy, social acceptance, inequality, making time for them, trust issues, busy schedules, attitudes, stereotypes, bad vices, inconsistency, controlling behaviors, negative peer pressure, and poor examples of relationships.

After the 6 Areas of Health, YAHA members brought general health discussion to the community level and asked:

What’s Happening in Your Community?

To answer this question, the members took a moment to write in their journals and answer this question: What are issues affecting the health of other teens in your community? Each member pre-marked their stickers with the first letter of the community you represent S- Sitka, F-Fairbanks, A- Anchorage, C-Craig, U- Unalaska, and K-Ketchikan.

Once the members had their list from their journal distilled to their top five health issues they were asked to write the biggest issues for teens in their communities on the large post-it in the room. If someone had already written down their topic, they were asked to place a green dot next to it. In addition, they had three additional dots to add their emphasis on the most serious issues.

After our review, we observed which top issues were happening in every community. Note that Unalaska had more representation.

Unhealthy Relationships (11-Unalaska, 1 Ketchikan, 4 Anchorage, 1 Naukati Bay, 1 Sitka) 18 votes

  1. Unhealthy Sex (lacking consent, lacking protection)

  2. Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault/ Abuse

  3. Teen Pregnancy

Potential solutions: activities utilizing social interaction to boost understanding and practice of healthy relationship characteristics, including recognition and response in unhealthy ones.

Other High ranked community issues:

  • Substance Abuse (Sale and consumption) (3- Unalaska, 3-Anchorage, 1-Naukati, 3 Sitka, 1 Ketchikan) 11 Votes
  • Personal Insecurity (4-Unalaska, 1-Anchorage,1-Naukati, 1-Sitka, 1-Ketchikan) 8 votes
  • Self-Harm (1-Anchorage, 1-Naukati, 3 Ketchikan) 5 votes
  • Additional: Sharing activities to reduce stress substance abuse prevention tactic. Inclusion of faith and spirituality was also mentioned as essential.

On the Topic of Healthy Relationships, Here’s What We Know:

Risk Factors: Poverty, maltreatment, early sexual debut, instability in parental and home relationships.

Protective Factors- education, knowledge of what a healthy relationship is and what it isn’t. Learning that not all healthy relationships are the same and they don’t all have to function the same way.

Skills: develop trust and support each other; create an atmosphere of open-mindedness (to be aware of different ideas); emphasize assertive and constructive communication; healthy relationship reciprocation and knowledge of expectations of the partner; understand what abuse is and the signs; if you’re physically stronger person in the relationship and they hit you don’t hit or fight back, just leave if you can; keeping a plan to leave and initiating it at the first sign of abuse, increase awareness of the consequences in staying in an unhealthy relationship. If abuse is happening, seek help, it's not your fault:

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Join us to promote youth voice and engagement!

We actively seek out collaborations with youth-serving health organizations that want to work with young people to improve their reach and effectiveness. In addition, each YAHA member selects a community health organization to interview for their community action plan, and in turn they learn about the services the organization offers in their community. Collaborating with YAHA is a great investment, especially because many of the members plan to pursue careers in health.

YAHA at Lead On 2015!

Six of our esteemed YAHA members worked to create an ignite-esque presentation for Lead-On focused on emphasizing the importance of youth voice and how youth can get involved. Cassie started us off with an inspirational piece about why each youth voice needs to be heard, and Jess talked about who YAHA is. Kayla presented next on what YAHA does, Alyssa covered the importance of community involvement, JaLesa described how youth can get involved in YAHA, and Lynette gave examples of activities that youth can do in their community to make a difference.

During Lead-On, the aforementioned YAHA members participated in many workshops on community initiatives, self-empowerment, project planning, self-expression, healthy relationships, leadership and pre-views of effective interventions that have been done at the community level. At the December member meeting, YAHA was asked the following questions to assist in community action planning.

What workshops were the most helpful and why?

  1. Peaceful Conflict Resolution: Using "I statements", reducing blame for perspectives in relationships.

  2. Preston Pollard's presentation about creating our story and how we wanted to change it.

  3. The Pre-Summit on Healthy Relationships & Sexuality, talking now and often.

What information, resources, approaches and community interventions did you learn about that could be helpful to our Community Action Project on addressing Unhealthy Relationships?

  1. The seven steps for conflict resolution.

  2. Healthy relationships and sexual health are hard topics to talk about, I really want to just get to the point where we can actually talk about it.

  3. There were lots of resources, but not one that stood out in particular.

What creative approaches or innovative ideas could YAHA utilize during our community action project?

  1. Ask questions of the audience in presentations, include them in the conversation.

  2. Peaceful conflict resolution and relationship skills.

What Lead On experience or quote will stick with you from your experience at Lead On?

  1. Watching people around me break out of their shell and grow in confidence.

  2. The little kid called Kwethluuk Obama.

  3. Open mic, Tieren did three stop-motion animations, he's super dedicated to his art.

  4. Happy everyone was able to experience the conference and take back that experience back home and be more open at home.

2015-2016 Community Partner Advisory

YAHA advised five community partners this session on incorporating youth voice in their

programs and projects:

The Engagement Process

Each new community partner starts by contacting the coordinator, Jennifer Baker. Ms. Baker will ask questions about the partner’s project mission, advisory goals and project timelines. Together, an advisory goal is defined and 3-4 questions are developed for discussion with YAHA. Next, the community partner either attends a YAHA meeting in person or by teleconference. The community partner will have about 15 minutes to provide an overview of their program, project, or campaign and about 30 minutes to discuss questions with the advisory group.

After the meeting, YAHA sends an engagement summary and schedules a follow-up meeting, if needed. After the engagement is complete and the community partner’s goals are reached, YAHA requests community partner feedback to process the experience. Lastly YAHA request’s a review of the final product if the community partner decides to incorporate youth feedback.

Work with us! Community partners that have engaged with us, have said this:

  • “It’s almost hard to believe that YAHA exists. YAHA is “walking the talk” of prevention and health promotion. It is so affirming and satisfying that YAHA is within the public structure of the State of Alaska. It makes me proud of the AK State government and encourages me to become even more engaged civically.” -Hope Finkelstein, Alaska Wellness Coalition
  • “YAHA gave valuable on our video spots. The students pointed out a need to strengthen our call to action. YAHA also gave helpful feedback on how/where students are accessing media, shaping our ad placement choices for the campaign. We believe we’ll see great improvement in the effectiveness of these spots and we looking forward to working with these students again.” -Regina McConkey, DHSS Public Information’s Team
  • “I learned that we are on the right track with respect to content and delivery. I also received useful input regarding additional topics and examples to include.” -University of Alaska, Department of Health Sciences

2016 Graduates Tell All!

Six YAHA members graduated in 2016 and are heading out on paths of adventure and greatness! Please help us celebrate their unique trajectories and personalities by clicking on their photos below to read their Senior Debrief Interviews.

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Welcome the 2016-2017 YAHA Membership!

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Alyssa Tungul- YAHA veteran

Last year, I discovered so many different organizations that help youth and leadership. I liked being able to give my input and in the public health standpoint. You see and hear public health messages and through YAHA I saw what happens in the background. I have a greater interest in public health and everyone was nice!

I am interested in continuing my service on the Youth Alliance for a Healthier Alaska because I have a passion for public health. With YAHA, I have been able to become a public health advocate and I’d like to continue to be one. YAHA is a great organization and through it I’ve learned many things about the state, my community, and myself. Being a member of YAHA has allowed me to connect with a group of individuals that share the same interests as me.

A topic that I feel we did not fully address last year is abuse; dating and sexual. I feel that dating abuse and sexual abuse are so prevalent in Alaska that it would an injustice not to do something about it. We can spend more time discussing statistics and coming up with ways to present these issues to our individual communities. For example, February is teen dating violence month. During the month of February, we could host dress up weeks at our schools or hold a community assembly to address these topics.

When every member gives 100% commitment this session, I believe that we have the ability to create a powerful change!

2016-2017 Engagements

YAHA has already scheduled a few engagements for the upcoming session. The engagement process is easy and the team is always excited to learn more about what health related services, campaigns, engagements and opportunities are available for youth in Alaska. Please contact the coordinator if you would like to learn more about becoming a YAHA partner or to request advisory.

  • Lead On for Peace & Equality (November 2016)
  • Youth Participatory Research- Positive Youth Development (Through May 2017)
  • Alaska Network on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault: Stand Up, Speak Up mini-grant review Committee (January 2017)
  • Health Occupations Students of America, mock judges TBD (March 2017)
  • Advisory of the Statewide Adolescent Health Strategic Plan (2016-2017)
  • YAHA Community Action Plans 2016-2017

YAHA Facilitator, Jenny Baker

Jenny is a Public Health Specialist II in the Adolescent Health Program. She collaborates and coordinates with communities in Alaska and nationally on strengthening positive youth engagement opportunities and in institutionalizing best practices of quality youth development within state and community programs. She received a BA degree from Alaska Pacific University in 2009. She facilitates the advisory and community intervention efforts of the Youth Alliance for a Healthier Alaska, and coordinates the programmatic and evaluation efforts of the Teen and Unintended Pregnancy Prevention program. She has previously worked in the juvenile justice and youth enrichment fields in Oregon and in Alaska. She has significant interests in sexual health education, peer education, and health equity.

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