Last year, Asher Andargachew was looking to score some volunteer hours when he filled out the youth impact survey. This year, he’s employed by the Children and Youth Planning Table (CYPT) of Waterloo Region to encourage other young people to take part.
The inaugural survey in 2020 was a pilot project limited to the region. This year it’s expanded to Ottawa, Halton Region and the Yarmouth area of Nova Scotia. The goal remains the same, however: find out from young people themselves just how they’re doing, what their concerns are and what kinds of services they’d like to see.
The local CYPT organization is looking for those between the ages of 9 and 18 to take part in the online survey, offering them a chance to shape future policy and, more immediately, to earn two hours of volunteer time towards their high school requirements and a shot at some prizes, which includes two return tickets anywhere Flair Airlines travels out of the Region of Waterloo International Airport.
It was the volunteer hours that drew Andargachew to the project initially.
“At the time, I found it was a good way to gain volunteer hours. I wasn’t fully aware what I was actually doing, who I was helping in doing the survey,” he said. “We were doing the survey, and we were giving different organizations data to get grant proposals, program planning and strategic planning, to not only better cater to us, but also have a better and deeper focus conversation about their everyday situations and issues.”
Getting that information directly from young people themselves is a huge benefit to planners and programmers, said Alison Pearson, CYPT’s manager of community engagement and planning.
“We tend to have data about young people that is from adults. So, a lot of the data we have to help us make our decisions are from parents or teachers, people in the lives of young people, and that is helpful. That’s a helpful perspective. But to make really well-informed decisions, we need to hear from the people whose lives we’re documenting,” she said. “What my hope is, is this becomes a meaningful tool for our community and others to hear directly, firsthand, from young people about their well being and about the things that matter to them.”
Having received about 300 responses to last year’s survey, CYPT is aiming for 1,000 this time around. Rural areas of the township are a priority just now, as the townships provided 10 per cent of responses last year, but only four per cent so far in the second survey.
“What we’re seeking to do with this year’s data in particular is disaggregate, so meaningfully look at subgroups and what they’re having to say about their well being. Geographically, we would love to help tell the story of young people living in rural communities. That means we need to have enough participation or enough numbers to do that in a meaningful way,” said Pearson.
That’s where incentives such as volunteer hours and prizes come into play, with Pearson noting the pandemic has made volunteer time harder to come by for high school students, making the survey a desirable outlet.
For the younger kids in the age range, getting the parents onboard is the key, she added.