Michael L. Holton, firstname.lastname@example.org or 402.687.2103x1015
Progressive small communities involve young people in decision making and community governance to shape their home’s future
During the past three months, we have been examining child poverty in rural America. Traditionally, youth development strategies were oriented towards what agencies and communities could do to children to help the community.
As times changed, realization has grown that young people do not want projects done to them. Instead agencies and developers have adopted a philosophy of helping youths by doing service work for them. Examples are benefit suppers or walk-a-thons on the local track to raise money for youth groups and their activities. While this may seem normal and beneficial for all, it does not include young people in a meaningful and productive way.
The approach that many small, rural communities have adopted is to include youth in the decision making process as well as the implementation of the project. Out migration of youth from communities is at an all time high. One of the key reasons for this mass exodus is that youth are not a part of their community.
Surveys and assessments show time and again that, while young people may love the community, they have not truly taken any ownership for the future of their home. Local high school alumni are often invited back for celebrations, but their opinions on the future of the community are not solicited. Alumni spend two or three days celebrating and then return to the urban lifestyle they chose upon leaving rural areas.
Many of these people would opt to return to their community but are simply not asked. They may feel like they did when they were young – given no opportunity to participate in community decision making. The vital point: It is never too late to start asking.
While young people are in the community, let them make a mark for the future of their home. Progressive communities have incorporated youth in city leadership, positions on the local chamber of commerce, civic groups, economic development, historic preservation, education boards, business associations, and others.
The key in working to bring children out of poverty and isolation is to include youth in shaping their own future. Everyone benefits in this type of relationship.
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