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  • Writer's pictureallisonjolester

The Power of the Teen Think Tank: A Tale of Youth, Action, and Impact



Imagine a group of teenagers, their minds a cauldron of bubbling ideas and eagerness to change the world. Now, picture them given the reins to direct that energy towards something meaningful, something powerful. Welcome, dear reader, to the Teen Think Tank - where the magic of Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) and Design Thinking collides with the raw potential of the youth.


In a world that's seen its fair share of challenges lately, from a global pandemic affecting mental health to unsettling rises in antisemitism and anti-LGBTQIA+ movements, we decided it was high time to roll up our sleeves and do something about it. And so, our ambitious YPAR project was born: to create an inclusive community center right in the heart of an underserved neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Armed with research methods as our trusty tools, we embarked on a thrilling journey, painting the town with vibrant ideas and heartfelt action.


Phase 1: Unearthing the Treasure

Our first task was to identify the needs of our community, a mission that led us to use a Group Level Assessment. The results were as clear as a freshly cleaned window - our community needed a safe space.


Phase 2: The Great Brainstorm

We then moved into brainstorming mode, invoking the spirits of improvisation with the classic 'Yes, and...' technique. Our thoughts ricocheted off each other, igniting the room with possibilities.


Phase 3: Designing the Dream

The next phase saw us wielding design charrettes and mood boards as our weapons of choice, shaping the idea of the community center to reflect both physical and relational needs. And what's a community center without a location? We found the perfect spot in an underserved, diverse, and queer-friendly neighborhood.


Phase 4: Bringing it to Life

Then came the fun part - bringing our vision to life. We rolled up our sleeves, painted murals, assembled furniture, and decorated the space until it radiated warmth and acceptance. We held events for teens and welcomed organizations into the fold, followed by post-event surveys to ensure we were hitting the mark.


Phase 5: Reflections and Revelations

Currently, we're in a phase of reflective learning, conducting empathy interviews with those who visit and use our newfound community hub.

Our data sources, from vision boards to survey responses, continue to inform our work, while the empathy interviews provide a human-centric perspective that shapes our future actions.


So, How Did We Do?

Well, the proof is in the pudding, or in our case, the vibrant community center that's become a humming hub since August 2021. We’ve had over 2000 visits from community members and forty organizations. But more importantly, teens who visit our center say they feel safe, accepted, and better able to handle stress.


Their efforts awarded them acceptance at the American Educational Research Association's 2023 Annual Meeting, where they presented their YPAR research to an international audience in Chicago!


That, my friends, is the sweet taste of success!


So, what's the takeaway from this whirlwind tale of teens, action, and community upliftment? It's that when you equip young minds with the right tools and believe in their potential, they're not just capable of creating change – they can ripple waves of impact throughout their communities.


Our Teen Think Tank is more than just a research project; it's a testament to the power of youth, the magic of YPAR, and the beauty of Design Thinking. It's a shining beacon of hope that in the face of systemic oppression and mental health challenges, we can unite to create a space that sings of acceptance, empathy, and unity. That's not just the power of Teen Think Tank; it's the power of teens, thought, and action.


This project is a glorious example of how young people, when equipped with the right tools and the freedom to lead, can truly transform their communities.

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