When I was fifteen, I made a decision that would completely change my life. Inspired by a Report Card on Child Poverty in Toronto, my brother and I decided to start a youth group in our school to tackle child poverty in city. I had never been in a “leadership role” before, so to say that I learned a lot, would be quite the understatement.
That being said, being inexperienced and never having even been in a school club before, we made a lot of mistakes. But that’s okay, because there’s nothing as educational as learning by doing – and that involves making mistakes.
Now I know there are a lot of students out there who might have an idea or an issue important to them, and want to start a youth group or school club, but just don’t know where to start. Hopefully I can help you with that.
What follows is a basic, step-by-step guide to help you set up your own youth group or school club. Hopefully, with this guide, and a bit of passion and confidence, you too can turn your idea or passion into something amazing.
Step 1: Identify an Issue You are Passionate About
Whether it’s the environment, animal rights or global poverty, the basis for starting a youth group is having an objective. The passion you have about a specific issue is what will drive the group forward, and is the most important aspect of the group. Without passion and drive, the group will not progress and goals cannot be identified and achieved. Finding that passion inside of you is perhaps the most important thing.
Everyone is passionate about different things. In fact, you might not even know what your passion is at the moment. But for many people, discovering their passion comes at a defining moment in their lives. On any random day there might be something that moves you – this is the spark that will drive you forward to starting a youth group.
Step 2: Research the Issue
Before you can begin saving the world, you need to learn more about your issue. For example, if you want to help end poverty, you need to understand poverty and the factors that cause and affect it. Why does poverty exist? What factors regulate poverty? What is being done today to address it?
In today’s online-driven world, the Internet is a huge information resource. As you learn more, write down the information that you believe is important – this is the information you will use to help other people understand your cause, and the information that will inspire your peers and the public to believe in your vision.
Step 3: Getting Adult Support for Your Group
Assuming you are starting a social justice group in your school, you will need a teacher supervisor to help facilitate the group. The teacher supervisor helps keep the group under control, as well as provides guidance and mentorship for the group.
A staff advisor can be invaluable, especially when dealing with the school administration or outside contacts. Furthermore, the teacher supervisor helps provide an alternate perspective on issues, such as the adult, school staff, or overall school perspective The teacher supervisor also helps make your group an official club in the school, providing credibility to the work you are doing.
Step 4: Hold Your First Meeting to Attract Members
What is a group without members? To gain your initial group of members, you’ll need to call your first meeting. This is arguably the most important step so far. First impressions are important, and you will want to hold a first meeting that is informative, inspiring and engaging – remember, you want your peers to believe in your vision and your cause, and join your group!
Holding your first meeting, especially if you have no previous experience doing such things, can be a daunting task. That’s okay, it’s difficult the first time for anyone, but your passion will carry you through.
Meet with your teacher supervisor to select a good location and time to hold your first meeting. In schools, this is most commonly done in an empty classroom at lunch or after school, when students are free.
When you have a date, time and location selected, you will need to announce it to the school. This is usually done through both verbal and written morning announcements so the school hears about it. Some other good ideas are putting up posters and spreading news via word of mouth – do whatever works in your school to spread the word. Remember, you want to get youth of all ages involved!
During your first meeting, you will want to do the following things:
- Introduce your peers to the issue you are passionate about.
- Inform your peers about the issue, via a speech, slideshow presentation, skit, etc. Be creative and engaging. Remember, you want your peers to believe in you and your vision!
- Inspire your fellow students to get involved – share your story, and what made you want to get involved in this issue. Be passionate! You need your passion to inspire your peers.
- Share your vision for where you see the group going and what you want to accomplish.
- Open the floor for discussion among your peers – it’s important to know what they think too!
- At the end of the meeting, hopefully you will have inspired a number of those who showed up to get involved, and you can start your group! Prepare some sign up sheets for the students so you can keep track of your members’ names, phone numbers, emails, etc.
- Set the date and time for your next meeting, so you can get cracking!
Step 5: Develop an Organizational Structure
As an organized group of young people who want to achieve great things, you need structure. Any group without strong leadership is destined to go nowhere. Leaders are the visionaries, action takers and motivators that drive the group forward. Without them, often nothing happens and there is no progress. As such, it is important that leadership exists within your group, and that it is well organized. There are several ways to go about this:
- Have 1 or 2 main leaders: These 1 or 2 leaders are sort of the “directors” who run the meetings, motivate the group, organize the events, etc. The advantage of this type of group is that it removes any type of controversy associated with hierarchies within a group.
- Have a Committee-Type Structure: This involves having roles like President, Vice President, Secretary, External Affairs, Treasurer, etc. The advantage to this type of structure is that it gives more people responsibility and obligations, thus creating a strong “core” for the group.
Whether you choose one of these structures, or a combination of them – discuss it with your team, and do what you feel is best! All types of leadership have their own merits.
Step 6: Have Regular Group Meetings
Your youth group should meet on a regular basis. The easiest way is to do it at the same place and time on a regular basis (e.g. weekly, biweekly, etc.). If your group is based at school, this is even easier. The best way for a school group to operate is to meet every week at lunch or after school in the same room.
Before each meeting, the group’s leaders should come up with the Agenda for that meeting – that is, the things that need to be discuss and planned for your upcoming campaigns and events.
These meetings should be run by your group leaders, who are sort of the “chairpersons” for the meeting. They bring up each new item on the Agenda, and help facilitate group discussion. A “Minute-Taker” should be designated to write down these notes, or “minutes” of the meeting, so that they can be recorded. A good idea would be to send a copy of these notes to everyone by email, in case someone couldn’t make the meeting!
Step 7: Get Cracking!
Now that your group is all set up, it is time to start running different projects, campaigns and events!
However, before you get started on those projects, here is some useful advice. Although you may have some designated roles in your group (e.g. group leaders, President, Treasurer, etc.), a good idea would be to occasionally let other members (especially the younger ones) gain some leadership experience. For example, each event you run could be organized by a different person – this way, lots of people get the chance to develop their leadership skills!
Furthermore, a good idea is to have the tasks of each event to be divided into committees. For example, you might require a Promotions Committee to make posters, announcements, etc. for your event. Each of these committees should have a “Committee Leader” who reports back to the overall committee leader. Breaking up your event into committees and creating more of a core organizing committee (rather than having just one organizer) makes things much easier and gets more individuals actively involved.
Step 8: After Each Project or Event, Take Time to Review
It is important to always step back and review how things are going every so often. A great time to do this is at the end of every event or project your group completes. Each of these events is a great learning experience, and you gain even more by stopping to reflect on how it went, and how it could have been done better.
Step 9: Think About the Future: Succession
You aren’t going to be able to help lead or be involved with your youth group forever. Every year, some turnover is going to happen. At some point or another, turnovers are going to involve everybody: leaders, members, and staff support.
It is important before the end of every school year that you have decided who will be facilitating the youth group for the following year. This is one reason why it is often a good idea to have both older and younger students involved in leadership roles in your group – so that even when some of the leaders graduate, there are always younger leaders ready to take their place.
But above all, perhaps the best piece advice I can give is to dive right in. Try things out. Take chances. Make mistakes – then learn from them. Just go for it!