Youth Advance Health Equity with Community-Based Research

YHEP showcase Savethedate1200 px.jpg

By Emily Gratopp, MS, ACSM-CPT, Extension Educator in Lancaster County

Two teams of youth, Extension personnel and community partners are advancing health equity in Lancaster County through community-based action research. The teams are a part of the Nebraska Youth Health Equity Project (YHEP), which is a partnership between Nebraska Extension, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Nebraska Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA). The purpose of the project is to foster youth leadership development and community engagement while addressing a health equity need in Nebraska.

The Nebraska YHEP utilizes a team of youth ages 12–19 in collaboration with an adult coach and community collaborators. The mission of each team is to: 1) engage in learning about health equity; 2) determine local health equity needs; 3) seek to address a local health equity need and 4) communicate results of the youth-driven project in a Spring Showcase in April of 2024. The youth-led projects explore health issues and social determinants of health in their community. The teams collaborate with public health officials and stakeholders about key health issues and present their findings. There are currently 27 teams participating in the project, with representation across the state including FCCLA, Extension and community groups.

Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County is partnering with youth and community members on two teams. The teams are building on efforts started by Nebraska Extension’s Lincoln Health Equity Coalition (LHEC), which has partnered with youth, Master Health Volunteers and community members from its inception in 2021 to focus action on community-driven, community-voiced health equity needs. Prior focus groups completed by the LHEC with community members who self-identified as having experienced a health inequity, highlighted two health equity needs: 1) improved methods for sharing education and resources to health services, 2) determining the best method for community members impacted by health inequities to be collaborators and have their voices heard in the community change process. The youth-led teams entitled “Resource Sharing” and “Videovoice” are researching these community needs for their Nebraska YHEP, respectively.

The “Resource Sharing” team has completed interviews and surveys with community members at Center for People and the People’s City Mission to better understand the current methods people use to find resources such as food, housing, jobs, clothing and childcare. The next step of this team is to test different resource-sharing methods such as newly designed, topic-based fliers that one youth, Kearrah, has developed along with kiosk-like tablets at community agencies that provide access to MyLink and the website version of the 211 Resource Hotline.

The “Videovoice” team is exploring unique methods of gathering community input and voice in the community change process. The youth have tested developing and filming videos that give voices to various health equity needs, especially among youth and emerging adults. In addition to videos, the youth are testing podcasting and developing personas of community members to better articulate the story of various health equity needs that are afflicting individuals and families in Lancaster County. It is best practice for community development to seek and include community input in community change efforts, however, often voices are missing or underrepresented from those experiencing the greatest need. Thus, finding creative ways of including underrepresented voices in community development is essential to making high-impact changes.

The collective efforts of the Lancaster County YHEP along with the efforts across the state, will culminate in a showcase sponsored by the Nebraska Office of Health Disparities and Health Equity, Nebraska Extension and Nebraska FCCLA. This event will take place on Saturday, April 8 from 2-4 p.m. at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln East Campus Union. The showcase will provide an opportunity to interact with the Nebraska YHEP teams and their investigation into health issues in their communities along with greetings from UNL admission and other university representatives.