Community Engagement & Saving the World

Project: MPowerment
Task: Reduce HIV infections among young gay men in Seattle
Challenge: Normalize conversations about healthy sex and empower young people to feel confident in taking care of their peers
Team: David: Graphic artist & teacher – Me: Event coordinator & facilitator – Youth: Insight & enthusiasm

EXPLORATION: Lessons learned

Lifelong AIDS Alliance and YouthCare tasked us to stave the disproportionately high impact of HIV on young gay men in Seattle. While we once knew what it was like to be young gay men — invincible, excited, confused — we recognized we needed a more immediate perspective to drive our strategy.

Our primary and secondary research provided outstanding insights: we were no longer young; while young men considered themselves invincible and immune to risk, they were quick to show concern for the health and safety of their peers. Though many youth expressed concern for their friends, few felt they had the confidence, knowledge, or skills to protect them.

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APPROACH: Creative spark

Over four years, we recruited teams of young people to become champions for their peers. We helped them recognize they were the leading authority on youth’s lives in Seattle. As facilitators, we leveraged their interests and passions as vehicles for conversations about healthy sex: artists learned graphic design and social marketing techniques; writers practiced journalism and publishing; drag queens gained leadership and event production skills; music lovers learned how to DJ and lead a crowd; food lovers connected with their audience through culture, cooking, and catering; natural leaders became advocates and activists.

The most effective prevention messages would come from the youth.

We worked to create a culture of support. If a young person had an idea, the resources and team’s skills were there to experiment, refine, and improve on the idea. Together we built on each other’s small successes.

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OUTCOME: Prevention redefined

Before MPowerment, HIV prevention for youth meant a brochure, PSA, or condom pack from Public Health. MPowerment redefined prevention to mean young people talking about sex, in their own language, as easily as they talked about Britney. 

When I moved on from MPowerment, I was proud to have helped create a community where youth created measurable impact simply by connecting their passions to a cause.


  • Reached over 6,000 youth with our efforts
  • Achieved 58% of youth self-report positive behavior change
  • Launched a youth awards ceremony and secured primary sponsorship with Comcast Cable
  • Vulcan, Inc. and Seattle Public High Schools enlisted MPowerment to create a PSA and prevention campaign
  • Co-hosted the 2002 MTV World AIDS Day Concert and Youth Forum
  • An intern named Educator of the Year by King Co. Public Health Department (first time ever presented to a youth)