Engaging your State Advisory Group: Tips for Young Leaders

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By Robert Vickery 
Executive Director
Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission

It’s pretty common to hear State Advisory Group (SAG) members talk about engaging youth members. Less often do I hear discussions about how youth can actively engage their SAG. Getting involved with a SAG offers a great opportunity for young adults wanting to share their experience, influence policy, learn about grant making procedures, and interact with government officials.  And involvement with SAGs doesn’t have to be limited to formal membership to meet federal requirements. Young leaders can engage on specific SAG projects or issues, provide youth voice on policy topics, and give feedback on grant making activities.

Why Should Young Leaders Want to Engage with their SAG?
  1. It’s an opportunity for leadership development.
  2. Through the SAG, participants can learn a lot about  state government (and a good bit about local and federal government too).
  3. Through participation in formal meetings, work on projects, networking, and event attendance, young leaders can develop career opportunities.
  4. Involvement with the SAG is an opportunity for young leaders to develop their own ideas for policies and programs.
  5. Young leaders can learn about program funding by participating in grants making activities.
  6. And – most importantly – young leaders can make an impact on the experiences of youth involved in the system.


Where Should Young Leaders Start?
  1. Identify the key players in your state, especially the state JJ Specialist and SAG Chair. CJJ can help connect you with an appropriate person in your state or you can use OJJDP’s state contacts page.
  2. Identify your “ask” – what are you trying to accomplish?
    • Do you want to be appointed as a youth member of the SAG?
    • Do you want to learn about policy issues or grant making?
    • Are there specific projects you want to work on?
    • Can you frame your ask as an offer to help? It’s human nature to respond more positively to an offer of assistance than to a request for help.
  3. Find allies:
    • Are there other young leaders who are also interested in engaging the SAG?
    • Are there adult supporters who can help you formulate an ask or network  with stakeholders?
    • Are there non-profit organizations supportive of youth advocacy?
    • Reach out to the CJJ National Youth Committee.
  4. Consider starting your engagement small:
    • Go to one or two meetings.
    • Strike up casual conversations with SAG members about their work.
    • Read any SAG material you can find, including the Three Year Plan.
  5. Contact the JJ Specialist or SAG Chair (or both) with your ask. Be specific about your ask (but don’t be pushy).
  6. Let CJJ know about your efforts – they can be a great resource to your juvenile justice reform efforts.

Robert Vickery is the Executive Director of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission. Previously he served as Director of Juvenile Justice Programs for the Illinois Collaboration on Youth (ICOY), including support for the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission and the Redeploy Illinois Oversight Board, as well as ICOY’s work on the Juvenile Detentions Alternative Initiative funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Before joining ICOY, Mr. Vickery served as Program Manager for the DuPage County Probation Department where he oversaw local Models for Change work and worked on projects as diverse as adult pre-trial services, youth employment training and placement, and alternatives to incarceration for non-violent adult offenders.