Since I began as the Youth Advisor at Stay ChatTY in October of last year, the focus of my work has been the promotion, creation and operation of our inaugural Stay ChatTY Youth Reference Group (YRG). After weeks of promotion, interviews and communication leading up to our first-ever meeting, a global pandemic abruptly changed the way that both Stay ChatTY and Relationships Australia had to do things. Face-to-face meetings were out, as the shares in Zoom sky-rocketed. Throughout the whole process of the Youth Reference Group, we were steadfast in our commitment to meaningful, respectful and adaptable youth engagement. After a short period of existential dread, I began to fall back on these principles as we charged forward into the Stay ChatTY YRG – COVID-19 style.

Stay ChatTY would continue to engage with the Youth Reference Group, albeit in different ways than first planned. As much as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the original plans for our YRG, it presented an opportunity for us to create dynamic and immediate avenues for the YRG to meaningfully shape how Stay ChatTY and RA Tas are operating within a COVID-19 context. The contexts in which we were operating within were different, so the way we were operating simply had to change in-line with this; adapt and conquer. 

Our first YRG meeting was conducted over Zoom with the usual ‘house-keeping’ items; introductions, ice-breakers, values, norms, goals etc… and it was fantastic to see just how engaged and passionate the YRG members were about Stay ChatTY and mental health promotion. Reflecting the amazing diversity, skill and motivation of the YRG members, we quickly became acquainted and comfortable with each other, ready to move onto some exciting group projects.

At our second Zoom meeting a week later, the YRG members were introduced to the rest of the Stay ChatTY team and the small-group projects they would be undertaking. Julia’s project focussed on a series of online webinars around youth mental health, Kat’s around the ‘helping a friend’ scenarios within the Schools Program, James’ around a ‘coaches pack’ full of engaging ideas for a sports club currently unable to train/play as a group, and Tash’s around opportunities to strengthen the social media channels of Stay ChatTY. All of these projects presented an opportunity for members of the YRG to collaborate with one another in order to really guide the work that Stay ChatTY are doing within a context of COVID-19.

Currently, we are in the process of the YRG members collaborating within their small groups in presenting their ideas and strategies for the projects. Although we’ve had to change the way we do things, we’re stoked to still be able to engage with our YRG and make youth engagement at Stay ChatTY one of our top priorities; nothing about us without us!