The Philadelphia Collaborative for Health Equity had the pleasure of facilitating its first Changemakers Workshop, which took place virtually July 20 –30. This workshop recruited youth, ages 14-19, from across the city, who represented diverse neighborhoods that included West Philadelphia, North Philadelphia, Germantown, Hunting Park, Port Richmond, Wissinoming and Northeast Philadelphia. Participants were guided through a two-week curriculum that focused on effective policy development and advocacy methods, culminating in a youth-led presentation of their own policy solution for an audience of more than 30 Philadelphia stakeholders.

Stemming from last year’s Health Needs Assessment and PhotoVoice Exhibit, curated by youth in East North Philadelphia, the Changemakers Workshop was developed to engage youth in addressing some of the most prevalent challenges identified in the assessment and exhibit. As one student mentioned, “I joined this workshop because I noticed a change when I finished with the last project that was done by P-CHE.” A need to improve the built environment has been a top priority, especially reducing the trash littering the streets in some neighborhoods. This workshop gave students an opportunity to learn how other cities have experienced similar issues and implemented policies to help fix the problem — and assess which aspects of those policies could be replicated in Philadelphia.

I joined this workshop because I noticed a change when I finished with the last project that was done by P-CHE.

Changemakers Workshop Student

To make the workshop engaging and meaningful for youth, P-CHE recruited nationally recognized leaders and city stakeholders to present on topics such as policy development, effective advocacy methods, political determinants of health, and sanitation programs specific to Philadelphia. Our presenters shared their firsthand experience working on policy efforts, discussed setbacks they’ve encountered and stressed the importance of moving this work forward, in spite of inevitable barriers. Each day’s session ended with time for Q&A, which often evolved into a candid conversation about the topic presented. The students frequently commented how important it was that they could speak to and learn from people with practical experience in the field. When asked what their biggest takeaway from the workshop was, a student shared, “My biggest takeaway is that even if there are big problems in your community, there is always something that you can do to help.”

After a week and a half of engagement with presenters, as well as research and instruction on various policy components, students spent the last two days of the workshop developing their own policy solution to reduce trash in their neighborhoods.

Their solution focused on three main components:

1. Launch a city program, stipulating that 40% of households on a block sign a petition stating that the block needs to be cleaned and they are committed to keeping it clean. After receiving the petition, the city will assist with the initial cleaning efforts and subsequent plans to sustain those efforts.

2. Once these blocks are cleaned, the city will add and maintain a trashcan on the block, if one does not already exist.

3. Increase the pay and number of people hired into city sanitation positions.

On the workshop’s final day, the students virtually presented details of their policy proposal to community stakeholders, answered questions from the audience and solicited feedback on how to strengthen their proposal. Next, the youth will continue to collaborate with P-CHE on how to engage councilmembers in this work, start a social media campaign to document the issue, and share before-and-after pictures of targeted neighborhoods when the clean-up gets underway.

P-CHE is extremely proud of the 15 youth who participated in the workshop and looks forward to supporting them as they continue to advocate for the changes they want to see in their communities.