Bright Idea: Blog Brings Street Outreach to a Wider Audience

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Photograph of a rainbow over a building decorated with yellow bricks.

When Dennis Lundberg, who helps direct Yellow Brick Road Street Outreach in Portland, OR, started a blog for his program, he had one simple goal: connect with the increasingly online-savvy homeless youth population in his city. Five years later, the blog has grown to include everything from photos of nightly outreach efforts, links to relevant research and new job opportunities for youth. Thanks to this expanded scope, the blog has become an important marketing tool for Yellow Brick Road and its parent organization, Janus Youth Programs, with an audience that includes people from all strata of the Portland community, from shop owners to City Hall.

City Commissioner Nick Fish, for example, started reading the blog in 2008. Being on the radar of a city official helped Yellow Brick Road receive the first-ever Coordinating Committee to End Homelessness Achievement Award from former Mayor Tom Potter. And Yellow Brick Road is now funded entirely by a City Hall grant.

In-kind donations to the street outreach program and volunteerism are also up since Lundberg started the blog, a fact he credits to his ability to publicly thank his donors and advertise new volunteer recruiting events. The blog also garners increased coverage in the local news. “I’ve sent the media to our blog. I’ve seen them pull language right from it,” Lundberg says.

Unlike static media like annual reports and traditional websites, blogs like Lundberg’s enable youth workers to explain in real time—and to a broad audience—the small but significant daily difference that their organizations make. Plus, a blog is free and easy to create. Here are some tips for getting started.

Sign Up and Start Blogging

Take a look at some of the free blogging host-sites and see which one you like best. These include:

         Blogger

         Tumblr

         WordPress

All of these sites have built-in software that makes posting a blog entry as easy as sending an email: Simply click “Create New Post” and enter the title, text, photos or video and tags (those little topical links found at the bottom of most blog posts).

Lundberg says he prefers a standalone blog to Facebook for posting messages, photos and links because it’s easier for readers to find a blog by accident. A number of his readers stumbled onto the blog by browsing the web for street outreach resources.

Encourage Interaction—Carefully

A committed, active readership is a fundamental goal for any blog, and particularly one based on community concerns like youth work. To that end, Lundberg encourages reader comments and links to his blog from other sites, while at the same time working hard to ensure that the blog doesn’t give predators an easy forum to interact with at-risk youth.

He recommends that youth-work bloggers keep security settings as tight as possible: personally approve (or block) all reader comments and rigorously monitor any links that other sites make to your blog. Other tips, from the Internet-safety pamphlet Lundberg created for his staff, include:

  • Always conduct yourself professionally.  Even online, you are representing your agency.
  • Never disclose or request any personal information.
  • Never agree to meet anyone you became acquainted with on the Internet without the direct instruction of a program supervisor and never meet anyone without another staff person present. 
  • Report to your supervisor if you ever suspect that an online password has been compromised.

You’re a Blogger—Write Like One

A youth-work blog can tell a story that appeals to different audiences, so write in a style that anyone can read—not dumbed-down, just comprehensible to a wide swath of people.

“I keep the language very informal,” says Lundberg. “No clunky acronyms, not too much clinical jargon. So whoever you are—a 5th grader doing a research paper, MSW candidate, the mayor—you’ll get the message.”

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