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YFE TIG Week: Empowering Young People to Advance Equity at Overnight Camp by Hannah Patterson

Hello! I am Hannah Patterson, the Evaluation Manager at Camp Fire National Headquarters. Camp Fire National Headquarters has embarked on an initiative with the goal of ensuring that all youth participating in overnight camp feel welcome, emotionally affirmed and physically comfortable. Our evaluations for this project centered on empowering youth to share their own program experiences and to create more equitable programs.

This project was designed to improve accessibility and inclusion for:

  • Youth who are LGBTQ2S+
  • Youth from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
  • Youth with disabilities, both visible and invisible.

The initiative began in the Summer of 2019 when we facilitated focus groups and story board activities created by Hello Insight at ten overnight Camp Fire camps. We also collected surveys from young people that focused on understanding the current contexts and barriers affecting accessibility and inclusion at the ten camps.

Below are a few lessons we learned and tips that we wanted to share on engaging youth as co-creators. Camp Fire looks forward to learning more as we continue to seek youth input in creating programming spaces where they can thrive!

Lessons Learned:

  • Co-create the Evaluation Space with Youth. We defined terms and set group norms with young people, before diving into focus group and story board activities. By providing youth the opportunity to co-create the evaluation space and define terms such as “equity” and “inclusion” themselves, they were supported to better participate in sharing their thoughts and perspectives.
  • Ask Open-ended Questions. Whether it is through focus groups or anonymous surveys, provide space for youth to share. On our surveys, we asked “What do you think would make camp more comfortable for campers of all identities and abilities?” The responses we received helped us hone in on specific program improvements such as providing greater support for youth with learning disabilities or offering sensory chill rooms for youth who needed to take a break.

Hot Tip:

  • Try StoryBoards! Groups of campers were invited to create storyboards about how different participants might decide to come to overnight camp, how they might experience their time at camp, and how they are impacted by their experiences. We were able to identify themes across storyboards to create clear areas for improvement. One example involves the story board below about a camp participant who has cerebral palsy. Mobility emerged as a theme throughout our data, and led to camp improvements such as paved walkways and the creation of Individual Camper Plans that outlined accessibility needs before youth arrived at camp.

Hot Tip:

  • Share Data with Young People. After implementing programmatic and site improvements throughout 2020, we created and posted flyers around camp this summer (2021) that included youth quotes from our data. For example, we heard from young people that they wanted more gender-neutral bathing areas and more privacy. We created gender-neutral showers and bathrooms, and then we put posters up near the bathing areas (see examples below). We wanted to show young people that we listened to their needs and made the changes that they requested.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Youth Focused Evaluation (YFE) TIG Week with our colleagues in the YFE Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our YFE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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