How Youth Engagement Strengthens Community

How Youth Engagement Strengthens Community

Kids from Rolling Hills Elementary School raise their hands to volunteer as members of the Fullerton Police and Fire Departments visit the school during a Team Kids assembly. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Children come into the world with the compassion, creativity and energy to help make a difference, but they are often discouraged from community participation. When Team Kids delivers its kickoff assembly to an entire elementary school, we ask how many children have been told they are too small or too young to do something. It gives us chills to see all the hands raise. So, unfortunately, it is no surprise that extensive empirical research from the Search Institute reports that only 1 in 4 children perceive that they are valued by the adults in their community. Only 28% of children feel that they are given useful roles in their community.

Anyone who follows the news knows the perils facing our youth. Our youth struggle with bullying, gang violence, substance addiction, sex trafficking, depression and suicide. They are at risk of feeling disconnected, unsafe, undervalued and disempowered in their schools and communities.  Youth relationships with adults are often focused on behaviors to avoid instead of developing positive, personal relationships that increase connection, safety and empowerment. In short, these realities illustrate a disconnect between youth and adults in communities across America.

We have an opportunity to turn this around. We can imbue our children with the developmental assets, relationships and experiences they need to thrive today and in the future. Empowering children to fill valuable roles within their schools and community moves the needle in a variety of powerful ways.

When Julie Hudash started Team Kids in 2001, she was guided by her faith in our children’s abilities to tackle critical community needs. She connected children with local issues – the first of which involved mobilizing a community to help save the life of a young, sick boy – and caring adult mentors, including firefighters, police officers, educators and parents. It turns out, engaging youth as a community resource helps those most in need, creates solutions to serious problems, positively contributes to youth development and strengthens adult community stakeholders as mentors to youth. Overall, the community and its members become more resilient.

What we can doWe can allow children and teens to share their hopes and dreams for themselves and the world. We can ask them what they would like to see change in their community and what they’d like to do to help. We can listen to childServathon2015_59ren when they offer their opinions on their community or helping others. When they voice their concerns or desires, we can encourage them to take action. And we must always be mindful never to tell a child he or she is too young or too small to change the world. When we send this message, we disempower that particular child and rob the world of their inherent gifts. It’s time to mobilize our
young leaders today. If we wait to pass the reigns in the future, we are missing out on children’s action now.

For more inspiration: follow Team Kids Servathon: Tour Across America. Forty teen leaders will serve 14 cities across the U.S. in 14 days in honor of Team Kids’ 15th birthday and the 15-year anniversary of 9/11. Some of the projects will include landscaping a permanent housing community for the disabled and homeless, hosting a youth-led town hall meeting, rebuilding homes destroyed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, bringing joy to sick children and children who lost their parents in active duty since 9/11, touring and serving at The Pentagon and presenting their service tour to the United Nations.  A documentary team will capture the tour and put together a film about kids’ voices and dreams and Team Kids will leave behind service kits in each city to continue to engage youth as community leaders.  
SF City Hall TKYC

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Today in Orange County, most of the work being done in health and human services focuses, appropriately, on the immediate needs of the disadvantaged. Team Kids takes a different approach, directing their energies toward our youth, teaching them the value and power of working together to solve community issues. In so doing, they are developing the philanthropists of the future and creating systematic change in our community.”

OC United Way, CEO Max Gardner

Team Kids is addressing critical child and community needs today, while also building our next generation of problem solvers.”

Dan Lubeck, Team Kids Board Member

I became a Founding Team Kids Board Member in 2004, after witnessing the leadership and compassion being developed in the students participating in the Team Kids Challenge Program. Team Kids engenders a culture where it is everyone’s right, regardless of age, to be a powerful agent for change.”

Bethany LaFlam, Team Kids Board Member

Team Kids, to me, is an antidote to entitlement and one great way to create the responsible citizens we all want as future leaders.”

Mike Cupps, Team Kids Board Member; Private Investor

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