Three Steps to Becoming a Youth Advocate

We are SO EXCITED for the 2020 National Virtual Keystone Conference! To get us motivated BGCA’s Senior Director of Programs Val Killebrew is here to give us guidance on how to help youth take action about what they are passionate about.

Youth of America are purpose driven and motivated to act on causes they believe in. Their digital savviness translates to a generation of individuals who are adept researchers, and who know how to self-educate and dig deep for the information they seek. Youth today want to make their world a better place. Sixty percent want their jobs to positively impact society, while thirty six percent of sixteen to nineteen year olds currently volunteer. An impressive seventy six percent are concerned about humanity’s impact on the planet. While youth have more access to information than they have ever had before, they do not always understand and interpret this information to make positive decisions without support from peers and caring adults.

Youth advocacy is an important youth development strategy to empower this creative, connected and passion driven generation. Youth advocacy can be a young person speaking on behalf themselves or their community to support a cause or purpose one believes in, makes recommendations and often times takes action. Adults can also be youth advocates, speaking and taking positive action on behalf of youth.

Think, Learn, Create Change (TLC): Guidance for Youth Advocates

So how can you support a young person in advocating for a cause they believe in? If you’re a young person, how do you start? Boys & Girls Clubs of America has developed a process for youth who want to become advocates and champion for change: Think, Learn and Create Change. This approach puts youth at the center of their own advocacy experiences  and supports their ongoing, active engagement as change makers.

TLC graphic

Step 1: THINK

The first step for youth who want to advocate for positive change in their world is to think about what is really important to them. Identifying an issue, cause or topic that youth want to advocate on behalf of may come quick to youth based on the connectivity of current generations. Youth advocacy themes can be categorized in the following ways:

  • Community based: A specific passion, issue or need in one’s own local community- an example could be the need for a local abandoned lot to be built into a park to support neighborhood schools.
  • Identity based: A specific passion, issue or need related to one’s identity or population- an example could be LGBTQ rights.
  • Globally based: A specific passion, issue or need facing more than one local community- an example could be the need for more creative recycling opportunities.

Find out what drives your youth by asking questions like:

  • What is an issue youth are facing today that you really care about?
  • What is something happening in your community that would would like to contribute to or see change?
  • Why do you really care about it and what do you know about it?

Check out the MyFuture activities Finding Your Purpose and Finding Your Spark to learn more.

Step 2: LEARN

The next step in the process is to get educated about the topic or issue. It is important to learn facts from credible sources, ensuring you get a full understanding of the issue, not just one perspective. It’s easy to get fooled by untrustworthy, deceptive or sensationalized news sources or individual contributors. Here is some guidance from Commonsense Media:

  • Know your domains. Every website has to register a domain that indicates what kind of agency it is. The most common are “.com” (businesses that profit from their sites), “.net” (networks that are often private), “.org” (nonprofits such as Common Sense Media that don’t profit from their sites), “.gov” (government sites that are obligated to publish public information), and “.edu” (university sites that publish peer-reviewed studies). All of these can provide information for your research, but in general, “.gov” and “.edu” sites will offer objective data based on research.
  • Google and Wikipedia. These aren’t necessarily poor sources, but they need to be cross-referenced. And they’re not enough to fully understand the issue or topic you’re interested in. On a Wikipedia article, scroll to the “Sources” and “External Links” sections to get links.
  • The library. Your local librarian is trained to help you find the best resources on your topic.
  • Meta search engines. Google Scholar (a free search engine that indexes scholarly literature such as academic papers) and Gale and LexisNexis Academic (both subscription-based services available at libraries and other institutions) search a huge range of topics for print and web articles, academic papers, and even multimedia sources.
  • Grandparents, historians, longtime neighborhood residents, and the like can be great sources of (not always entirely accurate but usually colorful) information.
  • Book-report books, biographies, science books, and nonfiction books all are great sources for learning reliable data.

These additional practices can also be used to gather more information about a topic of interest:

  • Observation – going out to observe the problem/need first-hand
  • Interview – talking one-on-one or in small groups with people affected by the problem/need
  • Survey – distributing a series of questions to people directly affected or involved
  • Focus groups – talking in a group with people of different races, genders, ages, or physical abilities

Consider using this research methods template from BGCA’s Keystone Club Planner that you can print or type right in. To learn more about researching online, complete the brand new MyFuture activity Fact or Fake? Identifying Credible Information.


Once youth identify what issue or cause they want to take action towards and learn some facts about that topic, it is time to identify what type of action and how to move forward. Consider the following examples of taking action:

  • Service Projects and Initiatives – time bound, specific projects
  • Event Based Action – marches or rallies
  • Entrepreneurship Ventures – developing a business to serve a need
  • Political Engagement – campaigns, connecting with elected officials, creating new policies

To support youth in planning action, consider the following steps:

  1. Identify the type of action/activity—one that directly meets the needs, supports the need, or advocates to address it
  2. Goal—the goal you hope your action/activity will achieve
  3. Location—the specific location where the action/activity will take place
  4. Description—what the action/activity will look like and its key elements
  5. Date and Time—when the action/activity will take place
  6. Partners—groups and organizations to partner with or inform of the action/activity
  7. Resources– what resources may be needed for the specific action/activity

Check out the My Future activities Vote to Make a Difference, Photo Advocate and Stand Up, Speak Out to learn more.

Consider using this project action plan template from the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Keystone Club Planner that you can print or type right in. And while you are there, just explore the whole Keystone Club Planner. It’s great!

Feeling unsure about how to take action during the COVID-19 pandemic? Here are some tips from the Alliance for Youth Action.

Need some inspiration? Read about 6 youth-led movements.

What kinds of advocacy projects are your youth doing? How have you engaged youth in citizenship activities? We want to share your stories on the ClubX Blog! Comment below, on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page, or email to share.


becoming a youth advocate pin


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