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ACT for Youth

Youth Engagement in Programs

Effective youth programming involves a supportive environment; an orientation toward positive outcomes; and program activities that involve multiple learning styles and are hands-on, experiential, relevant, and challenging. There are several core strategies to enhance young people's meaningful engagement in programming. Whether it is a sports, after-school, or prevention program, young people can make authentic contributions by being involved in program planning, implementation, and evaluation/reflection.


Invite young people to provide ideas for program activities and events, offer suggestions for recruitment and outreach, or map out new topic areas.

Interactive Planning Activity: Backwards Planning

Young people define the desired outcome of the project and start planning all the necessary steps by working backwards from the goal or outcome. They can use sticky notes or other colored paper, or they can use a sticky wall and paper. As they generate action steps, they can discuss the order and rearrange steps if necessary.


Give young people concrete roles and responsibilities during programming, such as group leader, facilitator or co-facilitator of a program activity, manager of logistics (prepare material, set up, refreshments, etc.), or project leader and organizer.

Program responsibilities and roles that a young person could carry out include these examples:

  • Community/neighborhood events
  • Mentoring of younger youth
  • Peer education
  • Manager of a youth-run café or teen center
  • Leader/captain of a sports team


Engage young people in reflecting on the program or program activities through focus groups, surveys, interviews, or speak-outs. To ensure that input from young people is solicited regularly, institutionalize the practice by forming youth advisory groups or developing youth as evaluators.

Interactive Evaluation or Reflection Activity: Interviews

Young people can interview each other about a group experience or a completed project. It is best to start this activity by brainstorming the interview questions as a group. Put young people into teams and have them interview each other. After a few minutes they can report back to the larger group about their findings. To make it more interesting, they can use cell phones or flip cameras to record the interview.

Resources: Recruitment and Retention

Five Strategies for Successful Recruitment and Retention of Children and Families in Human Service Programs

The goal of this toolkit is to increase participation in human service programs for such issues as behavioral health, substance use, stress management, parenting, and healthy relationships. This toolkit provides strategies for developing a strong recruitment and retention plan. RAND Corporation.


Strategies for Recruiting and Retaining Participants in Prevention Programs

There are many obstacles to successful participant recruitment and retention. In this Research to Practice brief, the authors briefly outline strategies to overcome these obstacles. University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Practice Brief

Recruitment of Program Participants: Planning Questions

Based on the University of Wisconsin-Madison resource above, these questions will help you consider the scope of planning needed for successful participant recruitment and retention. ACT for Youth.

Planning Questions

Rules of Engagement: Participant Recruitment and Retention

In this webinar, presenters discuss strategies for recruitment and retention as well as how to incorporate positive youth development into a recruitment and retention plan. HHS Office of Adolescent Health.

Webinar Slides

Audio (65 minutes)