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Making Youth Part of the Solution
Irvine, CA

In Irvine, CA, the High School Youth Action Team (HSYAT) and the Youth Creating Changes (YCC) organization have been working with their peers in the community to tackle issues such as underage drinking, substance abuse, and violent behavior since each group was founded in the early 1990s. The longevity and vitality of these programs stand as a clear testament to Irvine’s commitment to the idea that the youth of today are the key to a successful tomorrow.

It is important to give young people who want to be involved in prevention meaningful ways to contribute.”

—Debra Bianchi,
Executive Director, Irvine
Community Drug Prevention, Irvine, CA

Recognizing their common mission to prevent youth violence and foster healthy youth development, Irvine’s Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) initiative partnered with these groups after receiving their SS/HS grant in 2002. This partnership would give Irvine’s youth a meaningful role in making change throughout their community. With the help of Irvine’s SS/HS initiative, HSYAT and YCC have implemented successful social marketing campaigns designed to change attitudes about risky behaviors such as substance use. Working together, these partners have made a significant and positive impact on the youth of Irvine.

”Our partners believe that it is important to give young people who want to be involved in prevention meaningful ways to contribute,” explained Debra Bianchi, Executive Director of Irvine Community Drug Prevention and advisor to YCC and the Irvine Prevention Coalition student board. “A social marketing campaign is the perfect vehicle for youth involvement.”

Running the Programs

The setup is simple. Students run the programs. HSYAT, a program funded by the city of Irvine, hires 13 students each year as city staff for a 1-year term. HSYAT students then form clubs at their schools. YCC is a school-based student program with a similar mission. Through these activities, student leaders encourage involvement and model exemplary behavior, teaching others by example to make wise choices about things like alcohol and drug use that can negatively affect their minds and bodies, a mission that dovetails perfectly with Irvine’s SS/HS initiative.

The SS/HS initiative and the Middle School Youth Action Team (MSYAT), a program identical to the HSYAT for middle school students, organize and conduct an annual violence prevention conference for middle school students. At these conferences, students learn ways to use their influence among their peers to create caring environments in their schools. This helps the larger student population learn to resist peer pressure and make responsible decisions. HSYAT, with assistance from SS/HS, conducts a minimum of four community youth forums each year to solicit input from Irvine’s youth about the issues and challenges facing them. Because the forums are conducted by their peers, students feel valued and willingly offer their opinions and perceptions about issues such as substance use, dating violence, and suicide.

Calling Upon Their Peers

To build on the progress made at the youth conferences and forums, Irvine’s SS/HS project and the two youth organizations began work on a social marketing campaign aimed at students. In the youth forums and conferences, members of YCC and HSYAT learned that many of their peers do make responsible choices about drugs and alcohol. They decided that it was important to share this information with all students.

After receiving thorough training in social marketing from the SS/HS Communications Team, Irvine’s students began their social marketing campaign using the information gathered from their peers in the conferences and forums. Irvine’s student-led social marketing campaign educated youth about what the “true norms” were. With this message at the heart of their social marketing campaign, they sought to give youth the confidence to resist peer pressure based on the fact that most of their peers were not using alcohol or drugs. Perceptions are not always reality, and the social norms concept strives to make changes based on that. Staff and administrators have embraced this work and continue to offer an increasing number of resources to support YCC, HSYAT, MSYAT, and their programs.

Working for Change

The social marketing campaign has been a success in Irvine’s schools. To build on these efforts, Irvine’s SS/HS initiative and the city government worked with HSYAT to turn it into a community-wide campaign in 2006. Through this social marketing campaign, Irvine’s SS/HS initiative has increased collaborations between community leaders, the schools, and youth. By investing time, talents, and resources, Irvine’s partners have made huge strides in their approach to the challenges facing young people and toward the betterment of the entire community.

Young people can be a powerful force for change, and the student partners of Irvine’s SS/HS initiative have eagerly embraced their role in working for prevention. The success of Irvine’s SS/HS initiative lies in making students into positive agents for change and sharing with them the responsibility of removing the barriers for healthy growth and development. As students grow into adulthood, they will be equipped to overcome challenges and become productive citizens in the community; ultimately, this is the favored approach to sustainability.

Communities on the Road to Success: Irvine, CA
The Irvine Unified School District SS/HS initiative implemented a comprehensive, community-wide strategy for creating safe and drug-free schools and for promoting healthy childhood development for children and families. This strategy includes a Youth Leadership Academy, parent involvement programs and activities, student/family counseling, and alternative-to-suspension programs. In addition to these programs, Irvine has made youth full partners in their efforts. Students in the community have embraced the opportunity and carry the mantle of prevention to their peers. Preventing violence and substance abuse among youth has since become an important value shared by all segments of the community in Irvine.

U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
U.S. Department of Justice
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Last Updated on 1/27/2015