The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) recently formed the Statewide Youth Advisory Council, which will support schools and communities with COVID-19 school-based recovery efforts.
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This summer, OHA appointed 20 youths between the ages of 15 and 19 to serve on the council and lead decision making for $1 million in recovery investment. OHA partnered with REAP Inc. to facilitate and provide leadership development for the group.
“Our goal is for students to want to access our services,” said Lev Schneidman, Program Coordinator for COVID-19 School Based Recovery Funds. “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 excited to be partnering with REAP, an organization with over 20 years of experience providing multicultural youth empowerment and leadership.”
OHA recruited high-school aged youths from across the state and received hundreds of applicants. OHA and REAP selected 20 youths representing 12 counties and 19 schools. Fifty percent of the youths 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 youths involved with the child welfare system.
Since its formation in June, the group has met 4 times and has already established values related to advancing health equity in the wake of the pandemic.
Members began identifying several needs created/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 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.
By late fall 2022, the group hopes to have recommendations on how to invest funds to support school and community recovery.
“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,” said Anderson DuBoise, Strategic Initiatives Manager at REAP Inc. “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 YAC 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 decisions,” Schneidman said.
This press release was provided by Oregon Health Authority.