Advocates for Richmond Youth is a diverse group of young people whose goal is to prevent youth homelessness in the Richmond region through participatory action research.

"Youth voices often go unheard, and it’s a beautiful thing when youth have a space where they can develop and utilize their voice," said Jae Lange, one of the Advocates for Richmond Youth.

This semester, students in the WILL* Senior Seminar, taught by program director Holly Blake, collaborated with the Advocates to turn key findings from their recent research study, a 50-page report, into posters, brochures, booklets, and social media posts.

"Participatory action research aims to have those who are typically researched become the researchers – and the research is used to fuel change," Blake said.

Advocates for Richmond Youth team members and WILL* students spent an entire day together and learned how to create eye-catching designs with graphic designer Meghan Resler. For the rest of the semester, the Advocates and WILL* students worked in smaller teams on different deliverables aimed towards policy makers, school teachers and administrators, service providers, and youth themselves.

"The experience of working together and the class readings challenged the assumptions of many students, destigmatized the experience of homelessness, and allowed for deeper understanding," Blake said.

WILL* Senior Seminar students were also motivated by the community-based learning experience.

"As I learned about the statistics and personal narratives of youth experiencing homelessness, I felt this passion to act to the best of my ability in bringing more equitable change for the marginalized communities being affected," said Canvas Brieva, ’19, one of the WILL* students in the seminar.

On Thursday, April 19, the Advocates and WILL* students presented their designs together at UR Downtown for the public.   

"This is the third year my WILL* Senior Seminar class has collaborated with Advocates for Richmond Youth," Blake said. "And we are collectively thrilled with the end products our collaboration created!"

Two years ago, WILL* students and the Advocates hosted the first pop-up drop in center for youth experiencing homelessness at UR Downtown. Last year, they hosted a pop-up drop in center at Side by Side. Blake noted the constant supportive presence of Kim Dean-Anderson throughout this partnership.

Supporting faculty in their community-engaged teaching is an important part of the work of the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), where Dean-Anderson serves as associate director of community relationships and UR Downtown.

"The intentionality, authenticity, and creativity all participants bring each year clearly contributes to the positive outcomes," Dean-Anderson said. "I’ve been honored to participate in brainstorming reciprocal connections between the groups, and the CCE and UR Downtown have been proud to contribute resources to support these impactful projects."

Advocates for Richmond Youth will use the new designs in schools and communities throughout the region – and hope they will be helpful to other activists.

"If you aren’t already actively working towards a change in youth housing instability, sharing these marketing tools that we’ve created together is a start," Lange said. "A little effort can go a long way."