The Mirror Youth Coalition’s Youth As Resources (YAR) program utilizes youth’s energy, passion and idealism as a powerful prevention resource for the community. YAR provides a framework or roadmap for implementing prevention strategies to reduce substance abuse risks among youth and build community strengths.
“After piloting the YAR project back in 2006 in a small community, I saw firsthand that when youth are given the opportunity and skills, they rise to the occasion and become active participants in community life,” said Des Martens, Coordinator of Prevention Services at Mirror Youth Coalition.
Through YAR, youth design projects that address a community need focusing on substance abuse in their school. The coalition currently has teams that lead prevention efforts, host alternative parties, and attend leadership training. The program is made up of youth coalitions in six small rural Kansas towns; populations range from the smallest community of 900 people to the largest community of 19,000.
The youth’s coalition work and prevention messaging has impacted over 2,000 youth in the community. What sets YAR’s work apart is that youth take the lead on designing and delivering the message with assistance/training from the coalition. One 7th grader heard YAR high school students present to her middle school; after the presentation, she and her friend made a pact to not use drugs or alcohol and to join YAR when they got to high school. A few years later, she was part of the high school leadership team that delivered a powerful message of substance abuse prevention to 500 middle school students.
In YAR, youth address problem behaviors like substance abuse and involve themselves in community initiatives like building a new library/community center and designing presentations, such as the “Natural High or Above the Influence Campaign.”
“As a visionary, you have to paint a picture of what is possible for young people and then empower them to make it a reality,” said Martens. “When you provide youth with the opportunities and the skills, they will amaze you. Adults have to make room at the table for young people and believe that they have something to offer.”