From the Ground Up

Youth and Adults Improve Communities

Recent calls for change from throughout the country have communities and individuals thinking about innovative solutions to national and local issues. The after-school movement has become a key force in this effort.

If, as a nation, we are to join with all humankind in achieving a more democratic world, we must harness the energy of our youth and provide them the necessary positive support to be heard and to contribute in meaningful ways to their communities.
– (Villarruel, F. A., Perkins, D.F., Borden, L.M. and Keith, J.G, 2003, p. 3)

Three main concepts of a proper Youth Development program are:

  1. Community as a source of strength and as a focus of change
  2. Active youth participation and decision-making about issues that impact their lives
  3. Adult-youth partnerships to bring about change in individuals, programs, and communities

A Continuum of Youth Participation

Youth participation within a community youth development framework takes concerted effort and thoughtful work by adults and young people. Youth participation is defined as: involving youth in responsible, challenging action that meets genuine needs, with opportunities for planning and/or decision-making affecting others in an activity whose impact or consequence is extended to others. Keys to youth development work, a number of other principles guide productive youth-adult partnerships:

  • Reflective Practice: Adults and youth reflect on their own experiences as well as the project in which they are engaged to deepen learning, fortify relationships, assess project progress, and build on the personal knowledge base of the group.
  • Power Sharing: Adults are willing to enter a collaborative relationship with youth and scaffold youth participation in decision making over the life of a project.
  • Planning: Adults and youth are intentional about planning program goals and activities.
  • Transparency: Discussions related to power are open and honest. This could be related to how power is shared in the group, how much power the group has within the organization or community, or critically analyzing the way power intersects with race, class, gender, and sexuality in society as a whole.
  • Training: Young people and adults are provided with the training and guidance necessary to promote meaningful participation in the group.

Through adult-youth partnerships for community youth development, young people gain:

  • A sense of responsibility to contribute to society
  • Practice in democratic participation
  • Social-action skills (e.g., organizing, persuasion, policy)
  • Skills in productive work habits
  • Heightened sense of control over their own lives
  • Increased knowledge about their communities
  • Experience with new roles and identities
  • Understanding about their rights

Through adult-youth partnerships for community youth development, adults gain:

  • Better understanding of youth capabilities and desire to contribute
  • Greater ability to understand and work with young people
  • Renewed commitment to their organizations
  • Excitement and energy from young people’s fresh perspectives, enthusiasm, and their desire to attempt new things

Through adult-youth partnerships for community youth development, organizations gain:

  • New perspectives on decision-making, including more relevant information about the needs and interests of youth
  • Open and honest responses about their programs or services
  • Additional human resources from the sharing of responsibilities between youth and adults
  • Greater credibility of the program or organization to both youth and advocates

Through adult-youth partnerships for community youth development, communities gain:

  • The ability to engage the people who live and work in the community
  • Young people’s extensive energy, imagination, and readiness to perform tasks that others may be unwilling or unable to pay for
  • A renewed spirit of community

Practices to Keep in After-school and Youth Programs: Young People Advocate for, Plan, and Provide Services to Their Communities. Youth Development Institute, 2009

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