How to create a captive audience with high school kids?

[slideshow] Captive audience.  If you work with high school youth in the non-profit world, you know this term.  It's ideally what you want, when you have services you want to deliver to youth who have better things to do than pay any attention to you.  Particularly after school, kids have sports to play, ipods to plug in to, cell phones to answer, friends to hang out with after school.  They've been corralled in classrooms all day.  So WHY would they want to hang out after school to see what YOU have to deliver?

Each Thursday, RootDown LA shows up after school at Jefferson High School with all kinds of cooking equipment, spices, and nasty veggies in tow.  We have a small core of Youth Leaders who've been with us for a year now.  They always show up because they LOVE cooking now, they totally dig growing food at WECAN, and they want to WORK with us.  Yes, we do pay our Youth Leaders stipends when they run healthy tasting events like the one we just did at the Painted Brain.

Some days twenty kids show up.  Some days just three or four hang out.  This week, there was no soccer practice for the boys, so a small cluster of them showed up and got curious about what we were doing.  I cringed, afraid to tell them we were using this weeks' session to use up tomatoes, carrots and even apples.  We'd make apple sauce and ULP, carrot, tomato apple soup.  Maybe the guys didn't understand we would put these all together with onions, spices and some broth and puree them into something akin to baby food in texture.  Maybe they just liked the idea of having Youth Leader, Mariella, walk them through knife safety skills so they could get their hands chopping up the food.

They hung out, they cooked, and together they perfectly seasoned a pot of what turned out to be the best darned carrot, tomato apple soup I've ever had.   One of the soccer players was taking notes, so we can get the approximate recipe for this one up soon.  Unfortunately, soccer will keep these guys from us next week.  We dream of, and have begun plotting for a day however, when RootDown LA can have a dedicated space for cooking healthy food, open every day so MORE kids can drop in, hang out, cook, get over their veggie aversions and help us build demand for healthy food.

Kids WILL eat healthy food.  We just need to make it more available to them!