Youth and young adults continue to have low COVID-19 vaccination rates across the US. Engaging youth is vital in the next stage of vaccine promotion and for reaching herd immunity. In addition to partnerships with youth groups, engaging young individuals as COVID-19 ambassadors can be an effective way to reach more youth and their families.
A Bridge Between Communities
Within refugee, immigrant and migrant (RIM) communities, youth and young adults can play a unique role in comparison to their peers from non-RIM communities. Many young people in the RIM community are the “bridge” between their communities and the broader US community. Within this bridging role, RIM youth often take on more essential caregiving responsibilities for their families due to their ability to learn English and navigate the US context more quickly. Young people may also serve as key sources of local news and community information, providing interpretation/translation of materials and messages, and helping their families make important decisions and access services including those related to healthcare. Additionally, RIM communities have expressed that getting the COVID-19 vaccine as a family unit is important.
“I’m able to be the voice for people who don’t know about health-related issues like the COVID-19 vaccine.”
- Christy Nyeing, youth ambassador
The IRC in Atlanta: A Youth Movement
“It was essential that we hired young people who were passionate about this work, who felt a calling to do this work and serve their community. We were able to create job opportunities/career development opportunities that will serve these young people throughout the rest of their careers.”
– Fiona Freeman, communications & external relations manager
The IRC in Atlanta has partnered with young adults, “youth ambassadors”, to engage community members, in particular refugee and immigrant youth, in COVID-19 outreach and vaccination efforts. The youth ambassadors help RIM individuals speaking over 20 languages overcome digital access and literacy barriers by answering questions around vaccine eligibility, scheduling appointments, and arranging transportation. This has been done through 1-1 phone calls, in addition to in-person support at 10-15 local vaccination pop-up sites weekly.
Youth ambassadors bring their unique perspectives on how to cut through the noise to deliver important COVID-19 messaging to young people. One way is to create educational, yet attention-grabbing, materials. Atlanta’s youth ambassadors are creating vlogs (video blogs) to show ‘A Day in the Life’--recording daily video footage of their work providing vaccines to the community. These vlogs help normalize the vaccine and talk about getting vaccinated in a low-pressure way, while also highlighting the large number of vaccines the team has already provided to the community (9,000+ as of September 2021). Another way is by hosting Q&A sessions through Facebook live events (466 individuals viewed their first live session!) The youth ambassadors also travel throughout the community providing talks about the vaccine to local youth groups.
“This position has also made me famous in some ways too, I have been getting phone calls from our community members who want to get vaccinated asking where and when they can get the vaccine, and also asking for information/facts about the vaccine too, I have been getting the chance to talk and discuss about the vaccine facts, side effects, our community hesitancy with both our elders and youth group of our RIM community.”
- Robel Woldeab, youth ambassador
Tips for Organizations Looking to Hire Young People
- Have adequate support: Make sure to have older adult staff provide ample mentoring and coaching support. It’s important to be mindful that youth ambassadors are young people just embarking on their careers who may have lived their own trauma and resettlement experiences, and therefore need appropriate support. This experience is also what makes them invaluable members of any vaccine outreach team.
- Ensure the position is mutually beneficial: Prioritize hiring young people who not only represent the communities that you are trying to serve but who have the desire to work in the healthcare field and who are looking for this kind of specific experience. It has to be a beneficial experience for the young people you are hiring, and you also must ensure you have adequate staffing to support the young people in their work and efforts.
- Let youth lead: If you are hiring young people to lead, you need to let them lead! Make sure you allow the young people to determine what works best and what they want to do or create. This requires relinquishing some control so that the youth voices can resonate.
“I have always wanted to help the people in our community and when I think about, I am actually helping them, I feel so proud to myself.”
- Tila Ghalley, youth ambassador
International Rescue Committee (IRC) Engages Youth Ambassadors
The IRC created “The Rise of the Variants,” an animation designed for youth, young adults and families that highlights facts about COVID-19 variants and how to best protect ourselves from the virus. This process included conceptualization, script development, visual storyboarding, animation creation, and a voiceover recording in English.
In order to engage youth and young adults, one key element in creating this animation was to gather feedback from Youth Ambassadors in the IRC Atlanta office at each step in the process. Input was provided on key elements of 1) storyboard animation (the Youth Ambassadors provided their thoughts on animation descriptions and example scenes), 2) content and key themes, and 3) voice/tone of the voiceover artist.
When consulted on the type of script and storyboard content, the Youth Ambassadors emphasized simplicity and weighed in on messaging that would resonate most within their respective communities to emphasize the danger of variants for those unvaccinated and distinction among variants. They also advised on the tone of the voiceover artist, indicating a need for dramatic sound effects. As far as visuals go, they advised on vibrant colors and catchy illustrations. Upon completion, their feedback was gathered to see if the output encompassed their earlier comments and to confirm that it would have an impact on youth within their communities. Youth and young adults play such an important role within the community, including their frequent role as bridges of information. Therefore it was important and a successful practice to have young adults from RIM communities included throughout the animation development for greater impact.