Bright Idea: Getting Young Men to Focus on Health

Three young men at a skateboard park

Q: June is Men’s Health Month, and my program is hoping to use the occasion to bring greater awareness about health to the young men in our community. What have other programs done to achieve this?

A: Every youth-serving program, particularly ones that address sexual or physical health, knows how hard it can be to get young men involved. And Kimberly Gillette, the director of Daly City Youth Health Services (DCYHS), a school-linked program near San Francisco, says that male-focused advocacy will only go so far. She says the organization instead looked to increase general enrollment, which naturally brought up the number of young men.  

“We’ve used stipends,” she says, “where we gave youth a certain amount of money, but they had to complete a program in order to get any of it.” This encourages youth to not only attend a first meeting, but to come back—a hurdle that’s proven especially hard with young men.

Gillette also says that some minor re-branding has helped encourage enrollment. DCYHS renamed their “Peer Health Education Program” the “Sex Ed Squad,” and asked youth members to design T-shirts. Add in some free pizza at meetings, and the Squad has evolved from an almost entirely female group to one that’s now 30 percent male.

DCYHS has also increased their presence in facilities like juvenile halls and “continuation schools”—for youth whose grades or behavior preclude them from attending traditional high schools—where boys greatly outnumber girls. And for all youth, male and female, Gillette says it’s essential to meet them where they already are.

“It’s hard to get young men involved,” Gillette admits, but by offering them incentives and ways to take ownership of their own health, you could help your program reach more of them, during Men’s Health Month and otherwise.

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