Youth Pages goes mobile – a tough crowd to connect with…

Teen using appInstagram, Snapchat, Vine, Kik Messenger … Youth Pages? We’ve got the info youth need – but how do we deliver? After 10+ years of producing a printed resource book – United Way 2-1-1 gets on board with mobile and now connects teens to services with a new mobile site, youthpagescle.org, and an app.

How likely is it that a teen is going to keep and remember a printed book when they have a personal issue they need help with? Not likely. How likely is it in the year 2014 that a teen will Google to find help for a personal issue? Pretty likely. Drugs, family transitions, suicide, bullying, domestic violence, sexual health, school, college, finances – these are just a few of the many stressors that teens may worry about and need help with. And although the issues that concern our teens may have not changed significantly over the years, access to information and resources has. With 37 percent of teens owning smart phones and 93 percent having access to a computer, help is now just a click away.*

One of the first experiences we had updating United Way 2-1-1’s Youth Pages in 2012  – a teen-focused social service resource guide aimed at local middle school- and high school-aged kids – was a focus group. We were scheduled to meet with 15 to 20 high school students, all of them members of Ohio State University Extension’s Cuyahoga County Youth Advisory Committee, to hear their thoughts and suggestions for the new edition.

More than 35 students showed up. They stared us down with a sort of half-bored, are-there-gonna-be-snacks ambivalence. There were not going to be any snacks. If we wanted anything resembling engagement, we were going have to show them something really cool.

We showed them the Youth Pages – a 100+ page book full of photos and information about community resources that can help solve the problems that no teen wants to admit they’re having. Combined with our notsoexciting focus group questions, it was the diametric opposite of cool.

The group had no problem letting us know what was wrong with the book: “It needs more colors,” “Can you make an app?” “None of these kids look like me,” But when it came time to give us ideas about how to improve it, the ideas were fine … but not really in keeping with the resource guide’s intent: “It should have lots more information about sports,” “What if it had some games in it?” “Take out some of the words,” “Make it an app!”

Wait … what was that about an app?!

(Now imagine a passage of time sequence, like a calendar with its pages getting ripped out one at a time, or time-lapse footage of the new innerbelt bridge being built.) And here we are, almost two years later, with the one thing every kid in that first focus group ended up agreeing upon – a Youth Pages app and a mobile website. Check it out. It’s got a bit more color, fewer photos that seemed to put them off, and the copy’s been cut down by about one-third.

It’s still far from perfect … but it’s a huge step forward from what we had before, and a solid example of how nonprofits can leverage technology.

We asked Adrienne King, United Way 2-1-1 Community Resource Specialist, who, along with braving that initial focus group, performed plenty of the updating and editing, if she had any thoughts about the experience. “The part that brings me the most pride is the fact that we tried to address traditionally taboo, but very present, topics like drugs, pregnancy, dating violence, depression, cyber bullying, and then offer information and local resources that help address these issues. Teens can reach the experts at the touch of a finger.”

And that really is what it all comes down to – local youth getting easy access to the skilled, hard-working health and social service experts in our community. And United Way 2-1-1? All we did was listen to kids who made the suggestion – “Can you make it an app?”

This post concerns a new Youth Pages mobile website and app for teens, available at www.youthpagescle.org or by searching “Cleveland Youth Pages” in the Apple or Android app store on your mobile device. The Youth Pages is made possible through grants from the Cuyahoga County Executive’s Office, Cuyahoga County Family and Children First Council, MyCom, The Cleveland Foundation and United Way of Greater Cleveland.

*http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/03/13/teens-and-technology-2013/

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