Tomorrow’s Leaders Creating Change Today – the Camden Youth Advisory Council
The Camden Youth Advisory Council is a unique program that provides a platform for Camden, NJ middle and high school students to advocate for issues that directly impact the health and wellness of the city’s residents. CYAC provides a forum for Camden youth to discuss, develop, and implement initiatives to create a healthier community. Students gain valuable experience in advocacy, networking, and community engagement, working on projects like improving school food, increasing access to clean drinking water, and organizing a day of play for community members.
Joining the Camden Youth Advisory Committee
When joining CYAC, students are expected to bring their voice, perspective, and sense of humor, as well as be open to hearing from people who may have a different perspective.
“I think teaching the basics of nutrition and healthy eating starts at home, but for some kids that’s not the case, so I believe we – the FBSJ staff – play a very impactful part in the community and their lives because this is going to be something they will remember forever,” said Envy Young, Youth Program Associate for the Food Bank of South Jersey.
CYAC compensates members for attendance and food is, of course, provided at every meeting, making it a great opportunity for students to network and meet new people over a meal. Members are expected to attend meetings twice a month after school and also need to attend Campbell’s Healthy Communities meeting twice a year.
Being Active in the Community
Joining CYAC provides students with the chance to develop their leadership skills, gain insight into different industries and careers in the health and wellness field, and make informed decisions about their future. The program gives students the chance to make a real difference in their community, work on projects that help improve the health and wellness of residents in Camden, and learn about available community resources.
One of the key roles of the CYAC is to assess the school nutrition environment in the City of Camden and address any identified health-related needs, such as physical health, mental health, school nutrition, and food access. They do this by sharing their knowledge of available community resources as well as participating in unique networking opportunities with cross-sector professionals from organizations like Campbells, American Water Company, Food Corps, Alliance for Healthier Generation, and other community partners and youth groups.
The program also acts as an advisory board for the Campbell’s Full Futures program, which fosters a school nutrition environment that ensures all students are well-nourished and ready to thrive at school and in life.
The Impact on Students
Through CYAC, students have the opportunity to work on projects that directly impact their neighbors, which helps build a sense of pride and connection to their community. The importance of youth voices is especially significant because of the impactful message that the students spread throughout the region as future changemakers.
“I was getting in trouble a lot before the program, since I have joined I stopped getting in trouble,” said a student member of CYAC.
Youth participation ensures continued care for the students’ community and a growing understanding of what it means to uphold its health and wellness.
Creating Bonds With Peers
Recently, the group participated in creating a rap video for Nutrition Month that promoted healthy habits. This meeting was an opportunity to improve their community while also having fun with their peers.
“All the nutrition I need; Veggies, water and sleep; To give me the energy I need; Don’t forget grains and protein; Fruits for my vitamin C”
The students practiced their lines and socialized with other group members, which showed the students’ enjoyment in being involved in the Camden Youth Advisory Council. The end of the meeting concluded with a meal provided by the program which consisted of a balanced dinner of chicken, rice, and additional fruits and veggies for the students to enjoy.
“The kids are becoming more open to being themselves every day. They are beginning to be comfortable with each other. Everyone loves to be together as one council or ‘family’ as they would say. The high school students are looked at as mentors,” continued Young.
Making a Difference
The Camden Youth Advisory Council is an excellent program for high school and middle school students in Camden City who want to make a difference in their community. Projects worked on by the group directly impact the health of residents in the city, as well as provides students with an opportunity to socialize with their peers and build friendships through connections that are fostered through their involvement.
“After every successful event, I get relief, like a big weight is lifted off my shoulders. I would say that the most impactful part is seeing their smiling faces enjoying themselves,” said Young. “I want the kids to have the opportunity to experience as much as they can while they are young so that they can get their minds going and planning for the future.”