Youth Ambassadors Program
The Youth Ambassadors program
The Youth Ambassadors program is a park-based program for secondary students at risk of developing mental illness or disengaging from the education system. It aims to build confidence and resilience in youth through undertaking leadership activities while connecting with nature. Participants graduate as ‘park ambassadors’ to spread Healthy Parks Healthy People messages amongst their peers and communities. Schools, youth and mental health services and park agencies work collaboratively to provide a holistic program for the young participants to support their social and emotional wellbeing in natural settings.
- For young people with serious substance abuse issues and/or mental health disorders, horticulture therapy programs have a range of benefits including lower anxiety and depression levels, decreased illegal activity and drug use, and higher self-esteem 
- Civic volunteering in natural environments can enhance health and wellbeing through contact with nature and the social connection that arises from working on a common community task in a local natural area
Key to this program is the relationship between a collaboration of services. If your school does not have existing relationships with local youth and mental health services, we encourage you to contact us so that we connect you with the right people to support your adoption of this program.
Youth and mental health services
Key to this program is the relationship between a collaboration of services. If you do not have existing relationships with local schools we encourage you to contact us so that we connect you with the right people to support your adoption of this program.
The Youth Ambassadors program has been running successfully in the Barwon Region through Barwon Medicare local since 2011. Please refer below for a case study that outlines the Barwon approach to this Active in Parks Program.
Barwon Medicare Local Case Study
- Schools were identified in areas that experience high levels of socioeconomic disadvantage and large populations of communities experiencing disengagement from support services.
- Relationships with key school staff were established, particularly wellbeing/welfare coordinators, who are likely to be able to readily identify students who were disengaging from the school system or displaying evidence of poor mental health.
- Youth services, including youth mental health or Alcohol and other Drug services were engaged in the program to act as both a support to the participants during the program but also as a direct referral point. Health promotion discussions were intertwined with activities so as to present information in a relaxed and non-threatening manner.
- The program was generally run over a school term with a minimum of a nine-week period. Generally one day a week was dedicated to the program, scheduled flexibly to ensure minimum disruption to the schools’ and students’ schedules.
- In the Barwon Region the YMCA was engaged for its capacity to organise suitable activities and its knowledge of local parks and outdoor areas.
- The types of activities undertaken were chosen for their capacity to engage young people in new activities and that required cooperation and collaboration amongst the group. Some examples included, surfing, canoeing, sailing, beach combing and hikes.
- On completion of the program, the participants completed a media communications project focussed on the messaging and objectives of the Healthy Parks Healthy People initiative. Students chose a medium to present their project to engage their fellow peers, students and families around the parks and outdoor spaces they accessed through the program.
- Team building, leadership and communications activities were built into all physical activities. These were supported by youth and mental health services staff to support the referral pathway into these services.
Keys to Success and Learning Points
- All program facilitators actively participated in the program alongside students to strengthen relationships and referral pathways.
- Team building activities strengthened relationships between students and facilitators.
- Providing the students with multiple opportunities to present their media communications projects gave them more exposure/platforms to be recognised as ambassadors within the school environment.
- A minimum of nine weeks duration of the program was essential for allowing meaningful relationships to develop between students and facilitators.
- Students displayed increased confidence in negotiating group settings and activities.
- Students displayed improved mood and attitude towards school staff and the learning environment.
- Students displayed increased health literacy and improved attitudes towards help seeking behaviour.
- Students were supported to act as leaders and peer educators within their schools and communities.
- Students, and often supporting staff, were introduced to outdoor resources they were often not previously aware of.
- The use of physical and practical activities acted to break down language and literacy barriers that might otherwise have been a hindrance to participation of some students.
 Maller, C., Townsend, M., Pryor, A., Brown, P. & St Leger, L. (2005). Healthy nature healthy people: ‘contact with nature’ as an upstream health promotion intervention for populations. Health promotion journal, 21(1), 45-54.