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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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Scouting for Success: Engaging Youth to Boost Community Resilience

Author: Darrin Donato; Community Resilience Policy Coordinator; HHS-ASPR Office of Policy and Planning, Division for At-Risk Individuals, Behavioral Health, and Community Resilience
Published Date: 6/6/2017 12:00:00 PM
Category: National Health Security; Public Health Preparedness;

Do you want to support students as they learn to overcome adversity, connect with their communities, and develop positive relationships with adults? Consider engaging with scouting organizations which teach students all of these skills. As students work with adults, adult leaders often come to respect and connect with students in ways that can benefit the community.

The first objective of the National Health Security Strategy covers an incredibly important, and equally ambitious, task—to “build and sustain healthy, resilient communities.” Community resilience is by its very nature a holistic concept that’s informed by many, many variables – and there are many, many ways to build community resilience. But social science and best practices affirm that empowering and engaging young people really helps both the students and their communities become stronger and more resilient.

While I work on community resilience and national health security professionally, my volunteer experiences as a parent leader in scouting have helped me to understand how youth engagement can help move us towards a culture of resilience—a place where communities are connected and people are empowered to help one another. At their core, programs like scouting teach young people to take care of themselves, be helpful to others, and demonstrate a readiness to serve their communities.

Many youth-serving organizations, including scouting, have specific training on emergency preparedness in their programming. When I became a merit badge counselor for emergency preparedness, I was immediately struck by how closely the requirements for the merit badge aligned with the concepts of community resilience described in the National Health Security Strategy and in the scientific literature.

The emergency management program in scouting starts with building the individual’s knowledge and skills, like understanding different types of disaster risks, taking actions to promote safety, and understanding how emergency management professionals do their work. The young people then focus on applying skills, first to close social groups like family and peers. This includes creating an emergency kit and communications plan and completing a risk assessment through a home safety checklist. Finally, scouts engage with their community though understanding their local emergency management system, participating in a community project, and developing a scout troop plan to help in their community following emergency events.

National health security aims to build trained and empowered citizens who are active participants in their community’s preparedness, response, and recovery. Youth groups such as scouting groups have long been proponents of this approach by building skills and applying those skills to help family, neighbors, and the community at large. As I’ve had the opportunity to help educate young people in these skills, I’ve been consistently impressed with the significant energy and effortless altruism that youth bring to community service. They only need to be told they’re a welcome part of our Nation’s health security enterprise and they will be invaluable contributors to their communities’ preparedness and resilience.


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