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Youthlinks by Design

Grade level: 3-12

Promising Approaches

  • Service-learning and community service


Special Features

Civic Learning Goals

Evaluation Studies

Required Resources

Available Resources

Professional Development Opportunities

Snapshots of Practice in Action

Contact Information


The Youthlinks by Design program provides youth the opportunity to discuss and comprehend the various emotional and intellectual definitions community residents have of “community”. Utilizing that definition, the goal is to facilitate understanding of the different explanations for why communities may thrive or deteriorate. Through twelve weeks of deep investigation and planning, participating youth design, facilitate and complete a service learning project with support from actively involved community members. 

The curriculum guides youth through an investigation of the various services currently available in the youth’s defined community. If services do not exist for a certain sector/need, discussions around challenges and solutions for this population/sector are facilitated by a Youthlinks Program Manager and adult mentors. 

The group typically ends up with over fifteen research areas of populations and the challenges. Examples of this range from issues/services facing animals, the elderly, homelessness, hunger, etc. From this list, and based on interest, the group will participate in consensus building and a democratic vote to choose three areas to investigate more thoroughly. Partaking in democratic voting provides the forum for discussion and debate, while also giving youth the opportunity to claim ownership for addressing the issues they care about in their community.  

The group is divided into three committees, with an adult mentor or Youthlinks staff person assigned to each group. Each group is assigned one of the three topics of interest, and specific requirements are given regarding the contents of a topical research binder, which each group must complete. Binder contents include five news articles on each topic, five local subject matter experts, service project ideas and notetaking from panel discussions. Participating in this activity allows for youth to gain research skills while simultaneously identifying key organizations or individuals in their community who are knowledgeable on the identified topic areas.

Based upon the information gathering process, three separate topic expert panels are convened. Community members who work in the identified areas of interest are invited to sit on a panel and participate in a question-and-answer session facilitated by youth. In preparation for the panel discussions, the group participates in many activities designed to refine interviewing skills so that they have the ability to discover the true “need” of the identified population. “Need” is defined in this program as the difference between the way something is and the way it should be.

At the completion of the panel discussions, the group participates in the second of a series of democratic decisions. A final vote is made to decide which area of need will be the focus of the service project. At the completion of the voting, the group identifies the service project they will undertake.

Next, the group presents their project idea to community focused organizations (e.g., Key Clubs, Rotary, Kiwanis). A call to action is put out by the youth, explaining the participative process they undertook to define their service project and the support they are requesting. This oral presentation provides a forum for youth to reflect on the steps leading to the service project, while honing the skills required effectively communicating to and organizing a large group.

At the completion of the project, an additional meeting is scheduled as a celebratory event, once again providing an opportunity for the youth and involved adults to reflect on the impact they had on their community.

Special Features

Youthlinks by Design’s structure is based on the three critical elements of all Youthlinks programming: critical thinking, empathy and introspection. Youthlinks by Design is also the means to teach youth how to be effective and engaged citizens.

Civic Learning Goals

Civic Skills

  • Critical thinking, active listening, analyzing public policies, problems and assets, and understanding multiple perspectives
  • Communicating one’s position through writing or speaking
  • Planning and implementing civic action through managing, organizing, and building consensus

Civic Dispositions

  • Developing tolerance, respect, and appreciation of difference
  • Developing concern with the rights and welfare of others
  • Developing a belief in one’s ability to make a difference
  • Developing attentiveness to civic matters and a desire to become involved

Evaluation Studies

All youth participating in Youthlinks activities are asked to participate in pre/post surveys designed with the assistance of Glenwood Research, a research and evaluation consulting company located in Maine.

Required Resources

Activities are focused for the development of the following skills:

  • Understanding community
  • Understanding how a community thrives
  • Comprehending services and supports in a community
  • Assessing effectiveness of services and supports in a community
  • Interviewing
  • Research
  • Project implementation

For specific activities please contact us at:

Available Resources

The YMCA Service-Learning Guide: A Tool for Enriching the Member, the Participant, the YMCA and the Community and other service-learning based materials.

Professional Development Opportunities

Local and Regional Teacher Workshop

Hall of Flags and Project Citizen Showcase in Augusta

Service-learning workshops offered at conferences run by other Maine organizations

Project Adventure training

NAMI Trainings

  • Childhood Disorders 101: an Overview
  • Childhood Depression and Suicide
  • Positive Discipline
  • Engaging the Difficult to Engage Child
  • Difficult to Dangerous Kids and The Explosive Child

Maine Youth Suicide Prevention Conference

Applying Brain Science for Substance Abuse Prevention

Snapshots of the Practice in Action

Youth participants of Youthlinks by Design, in collaboration with a local Rotary chapter, decided to focus their resources on improving recreation in their community. Through research, interviews and investigation they opt to purchase the supplies to build four picnic tables to donate to a local 4H camp.

Participants of Youthlinks by Design, in collaboration with a local Rotary chapter, were emotionally impacted by the struggles of a local food pantry as the food pantry faced an expensive a daunting move to a new location. Youthlinks by Design participants organized and motivated community members to assist in preparing the new building that the food pantry purchased (painting, cleaning, etc.) and physically moving the organization during its off hours, so that the food pantry was able to provide seamless service to its cliental. Youthlinks by Design members provided incredible physical and logistical support while also saving the food pantry thousands of dollars.

Contact Information

Alice Shea

Program Director


420 Broadway

Rockland, ME  04841

Phone: 207-594-2221

Fax: 603-372-1960

Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools: Education for Democracy