Reimagining How To Serve Young People in a Pandemic
In 2020, Peer Health Exchange was delivering health instruction to high schools across 11 states. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the national nonprofit had to rethink its strategy to continue directly reaching students. The organization turned to its experts — young people — to help find solutions. The feedback was clear: Reach us online.
With funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Peer Health Exchange developed a virtual heath education program that leveraged digital platforms — its TikTok account and selfsea, a proprietary mobile app — and documented the implementation and results of its adapted model.
Prioritizing Youth Voices in Program Development, Implementation and Evaluation
Peer Health Exchange prioritized youth input as it revamped its strategy. Amid COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, Peer Health Exchange turned to the social network TikTok, generating videos of young people delivering health-related messages.
In 2021, it launched the selfsea app to connect youth with health resources and information. The organization trained high school students in trauma-informed app design and sought their advice on the product’s user experience. Young people share their stories via recordings that cover a range of topics such as mental health, sexual health and social-emotional well-being among others.
Youth continue to shape the app’s evolution, with Peer Health Exchange teaching young users how to help evaluate the overall effectiveness of selfsea. It also seeks their input on the accessibility and culturally relevancy of each new health resource added. With promising initial data, the organization plans to undertake a new evaluation of its digital work.
The Reach of Digital Health Resources
This pivot to digital resources dramatically increased the nonprofit’s impact and reach. Today, Peer Health Exchange’s posts have topped 9 million views on TikTok — with 72% of young people surveyed reporting that the content increased their health knowledge — and selfsea now boasts more than 330,000 users.
“Peer Health Exchange has done an amazing job of pivoting during the pandemic to sustain and expand its work,” says Sol Espinoza, a senior associate in Casey’s Evidence-Based Practice Group. “It’s exciting to see how they have worked closely with young people to both design and evaluate their new digital products, which are attracting the attention of hundreds of thousands of youths.”