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Bringing Young People to the Table is about More Than Style… It’s about Authenticity

By May 13, 2024May 30th, 2024No Comments

Impactful change requires reaching everyone in the community — including youth.  That’s why we established the SE2 Youth Council, a powerhouse of diverse Colorado teens. 

Monthly meetings are a platform for vibrant dialogue. Council members share invaluable insights with our youth advisor, providing insights on youth trends and lived experiences, brainstorming, reviewing campaign materials, and providing critical feedback. We trust their expertise in crafting messages that connect with their peers.  

Their voices are woven into the fabric of our campaigns, ensuring authenticity and effectiveness. 

This year, the Youth Council champions the theme: “Building Healthy, Resilient, Tobacco-Free Communities.” Partnering with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s tobacco control program, we’re developing an outreach strategy that empowers youth to become active participants in the campaign itself. 

This dedicated group will play a pivotal role in crafting a powerful, persuasive, and youth-centered vape prevention campaign. 

Why the youth perspective is important 

More than 25 years of experience has taught us a critical truth: diverse voices, especially those of young people, are essential from the start. Including Gen Z and Gen Alpha in our campaigns isn’t just about meeting their standards; it’s about creating work that resonates deeply.  

The Youth Council holds us accountable for inclusivity and fresh perspectives. They help us consider aspects we might miss, leading to a true understanding of our audience.  

Gen Z craves authenticity and unique information. Forget generic health messages – they want inspiration to forge their own path to healthy living. Considering their distinctive style injects a deeper layer of authenticity into our work. 

But it’s not just about style. Young people are a wellspring of knowledge about what we don’t know. Even as a twenty-something youth advisor, I’m constantly surprised by their insights.  

Our Youth Council members are passionate about creating a healthier future. They’re a diverse group, with some interested in communications, others in creative design, and some in research and data. Regardless of their specific interests, we provide comprehensive learning opportunities throughout the entire campaign development process. 

Youth insight helps us understand their lived experience 

While developing content for the Forward Together — a campaign that seeks to build youth protective factors by strengthening relationships with peers and trusted adults – youth council members revealed the latest slang that parents might miss entirely. My proposed phrases for explanation were relics from my past, while theirs reflected the current reality on TikTok and beyond. This project highlighted how young people are constantly evolving, defying assumptions. 

The Youth Council also provided key insights into youths’ lived experience with vaping. While we knew about the use of disguised devices, we weren’t aware of the intense policing, the students’ feeling of being targeted, and their desperate need for resources to quit. By listening, we discovered a high awareness of vaping risks, but a lack of clear next steps, specifically around cessation and support resources 

Engaging young people allows them to contribute to the conversation about the things they face every day. It gives them a platform to collaborate and develop valuable skills. Their involvement fosters buy-in and trust, leading them to share our message authentically with peers and loved ones. Since they were part of the creation process, they trust and champion the message. 

What have we learned so far? 

This blog is your direct line to the experiences and perspectives of young people that make up the SE2 Youth Council. Through monthly meetings and check-ins, we capture their voices and share them here, updated regularly. 

February Council Meeting: Cracking the Code on Nicotine Devices 

Our mission: understand the landscape of youth nicotine use. We focused on Zyn, a popular product that delivers nicotine through an oral pouch. 

The Buzz: Most council members haven’t seen Zyn used in schools – but vaping is still very common. However, those who are aware of Zyn suspect its growing popularity stems from its stealthy nature, being almost undetectable. The telltale signs that a young person is using Zyn Pouches? Used pouches littering trash cans (or worse, the floor nearby) and tell-tale bulges in teens’ mouths, reminiscent of dip. 

March Council Meeting: Decoding Teen Lingo for Authentic Messaging 

Authenticity matters. To connect with Gen Z, we need to speak their language. So, we asked about “nic-sick” – a term describing the unpleasant stomach feeling from too much nicotine. 

The Verdict: A surprising miss! Most council members hadn’t heard the term, with only one encountering it during a school presentation. While alternative nicotine-related phrases remained elusive, we uncovered a new gem: “hitting blinkers,” which refers to using a vape even when the battery’s dead (when the light typically blinks). 

April Council Meeting: Empowering Young Leaders to See Through Marketing Hype 

Empowered by the science of positive messaging, our youth council tackled manipulative tactics in advertising during their April meeting. They learned to decode marketing messages, from fear-mongering to confusing design elements, by anlyzing  ads. 

What we observed: Council members showcased their media savvy by identifying tricks like limited time offers in retail ads, scare tactics in  cyber security ads, and confusing design choices on paper ads. While subtler manipulations might slip by, they confidently called out the most common tactics. This equips them to make informed decisions based on facts, not marketing hype.  

By fostering critical thinking skills, we’re empowering young leaders to make informed decisions based on facts – and not marketing hype – so they’ll become powerful advocates for themselves and their communities! 


Do you know a young leader who would be interested in contributing their voice to the SE2 youth council? Send them to the online application or reach out to me at 


About the Author:

Graciella Saucedo-Rivera (she/her/ella) is a natural challenger who lives for empowering people-powered communities. Through her work, she aims to build the capacity of individuals on the grassroots level. Honoring her lived experience growing up multicultural in a colorful immigrant community in St. Paul, Minnesota, she holds space to celebrate diverse cultures, faiths, and languages. She recently graduated from DePaul University in Chicago, IL with a B.S. in Business Marketing and a beloved minor in Theology. As an organizer, Gracie loves bringing together people to exchange ideas, build momentum, and create change. Gracie is at her best when she has her hands in the garden dirt, is feeding her family, cruising on her bike, or is alongside her elders in conversation.