Empowering Youth in Politics

 During the annual Mock Congress, members of IYC stand on the county they are from on a map of Iowa.

During the annual Mock Congress, members of IYC stand on the county they are from on a map of Iowa.

Did you know there is such a thing as a Department of Human Rights? Two years ago I discovered the Iowa Department of Human Rights. Part of their mission is to ensure basic rights, freedoms and opportunities for all by empowering underrepresented Iowans and eliminating economic, social and cultural barriers. One of the ways they work towards their mission is through the three youth programs they offer to the youth of Iowa. The Iowa Youth Congress (IYC), the State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council (SIYAC), and the Iowa Human Rights Youth Chapters (IHRYC). I was fortunate to have the opportunity through AmeriCorps to coordinate the IYC for two years.

Programs and Past Work

The IYC takes up to 100 underrepresented Iowa high school youth to participate in a year-long program which provides students the knowledge and direction to advocate and enact change at the local and state-level for youth issues.

 Brianne and members of SIYAC helping harvest food for local communities around Iowa for Feed Iowa First.

Brianne and members of SIYAC helping harvest food for local communities around Iowa for Feed Iowa First.

The SIYAC is a two year, non-partisan policy advising organization comprised of 24 youth from across Iowa between the ages of 14 and 20; who provide input to the Governor, general assembly, and state and local policymakers on youth issues.

The IHRYC are groups of Iowa youth, ages 14 to 24, who are committed to creating awareness, education and advocacy for Human Rights in their local communities.

All three sound like great, empowering youth programs, right? I still have an email from an IYC member’s parent saying, ‘I just want to say thank you for today. My son came home talking non-stop about the day…He said the day was amazing. This experience is so great for him. He lives for this...Thank you to you and everyone who makes this program possible for our young people, especially my son.’

This message truly made me realize we are actually making a difference. My first year as the IYC Coordinator I had a concern about engagement with members in the program. There were only two meetings spread far apart throughout the year. Besides those, the members didn’t have other in-person interactions, so I took action the next year. I re-programmed IYC to include meetings in-between the two big events in locations accessible to members in different regions of the state. This gave members the opportunity to develop better connections with each other and stayed engaged throughout the year. Yet, like every program there comes a time when you ask yourself, are we doing everything we can to make a positive impact? This is where my work through Future Leaders in Action as a Fellow will come into play.

Work as a Fellow

Through a positive youth development tool, Youth Program Quality Assessment (PQA), I will be surveying the last three years of youth participants for IYC and SIYAC, and the last year of IHRYC participants. Through this assessment I will be asking them about their experiences with the programs and staff. Questions will be geared towards some of the following topics: safe environments, interactions with staff and peers, engagement, youth centered policies and practices, youth and staff expectations, and access to resources.

The Youth PQA is a validated assessment tool designed to help organizations evaluate their programs to ensure the best practices for their programs are leading to positive youth development. I will be using this guide to survey and observe the interactions of the youth in each of DHR’s youth programs. This guide will help me identify and research areas for improvement and training. I will also be working with the current staff and members so we will be able to acknowledge areas of strengths, areas of weakness, and develop a plan of action that may be implemented for each program within months and years from now.