Uniting Youth and Community Development
By Keith Martin, Assistant Editor
For many young people, community service is their way to give back to the community and develop a number of skills such as leadership and teamwork. To further this feeling of attachment to the community's needs and concerns, one program is putting youth in charge of both developing and deciding on funding for future community service projects, a task usually conducted by adults.
"We have a message on all of our material that says 'you are important,' 'you are part of us,' and 'we cannot solve community problems without you,'" says Carla Danziger, Communications Manager for the Center for Youth as Resources (CYAR). "This is a universal message [we send to all of our groups], whether it is in Florida, Colorado or New Zealand."
Youth as Resources (YAR) is a community-based program that provides grants to young people who design and implement projects that benefit their community. Local YAR boards, which award the grants, are made up of youth and adults. By giving young people equal footing and voting power with their older counterparts on the board, the program creates a partnership among adults and youth, while also giving them a sense of connection to their community.
"We feel that young people need to be engaged with adults in solving community problems and policymaking," says Danziger. "We are a youth-empowerment program."
Developed by the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), the YAR concept was tested first in 1986 through Teens as Community Resources in Boston. The following year, NCPC piloted the YAR program model in three Indiana communities through a grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc. This endeavor was so successful that it spread to other states and provided the need for a separate organization to oversee and promote the philosophy of the program.
The Center is a national nonprofit organization and hub for over 70 community-based YAR programs in 21 states and three foreign countries. It also provides technical assistance, resource materials and training to existing programs, while helping those looking to start a YAR program in their community.
Applying YAR In Different Situations
YAR has taken its message of youth empowerment and community and applied it in a number of different settings, proving that in any environment, youth can make a difference if given the chance.
In 1993, one of the Indiana pilot programs, Youth Resources of Southwestern Indiana, joined with the Corporation for National Service to launch YAR programs in schools in five states. Through service-learning with school-age youth, the program has linked schools with the communities to implement ideas developed in the classroom.
The same year in Chicago, the first YAR program in a public housing community was established. The Chicago Area Project partnered with CYAR to pilot a program in the Robert Taylor Homes, which at the time were one of the nation's largest and most distressed public housing developments. Despite limited resources and other obstacles, the program was a success among active youth in the neighborhood. Through projects such as providing meals for older residents and pregnant women and beautifying the community, the program gave the young people involved a sense of achievement and an active part of their surroundings.
In 1991, the YAR program was introduced into the juvenile justice community. The NCPC brought YAR to the Indianapolis Juvenile Correctional Facility, a female facility, and a few months later to the Plainfield Juvenile Correctional Facility for boys. Through evaluations and testimony from those involved the program not only improved relationships among juveniles, staff and the community, but also showed youth how to care for others and find pride in making positive contributions to the public.
"A lot of people connect community service with something they are required to do," says Danziger. "It is totally voluntary. In fact, youth [participating in YAR] in a juvenile justice setting have to volunteer, they cannot be assigned. It is so popular, that they have to earn points to participate."
Beyond the numerous benefits the projects bring to the community, Danziger also notes the various benefits youth get in participating. The power of community service and participation in YAR provides leadership, planning, team work and other life skills as well as a sense of pride in accomplishments. Many youth involved with local YAR programs as younger adults have come back in their college years and been asked to join the national board at the Center.
Making A Difference in Pinellas County
Formed in 1996 by a coalition between the United Way, Cooperative Extension Service and the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County (Fl.), YAR Pinellas has given thousands of dollars to groups ranging from 4-H clubs to middle school classes. As a true representative of the goals and mission of YAR, the group has made a number of community-based projects possible, including a day to promote racial unity, buying used books and toys to refurbish and distribute to children in homeless shelters and remodeling a home to make it a day care center.
Court Whelan was an eighth grader when his curiosity led him to YAR Pinellas as a way to try something new.
"I was curious about the program," says Whelan. "I wasn't familiar with service learning, so I decided to check it out. I like the opportunity to have influence in the community."
After participating in two events, the project coordinator asked him to be a part of the board. He did so and now, as a senior preparing to go to the University of Florida in the fall, he is President of the board and has been chosen to be part of the Center's national board.
"It's all about getting involved," says Whelan. "Once you are in, you should have an open mind and not be afraid to voice your opinion just because there are people older than you [on the board too]. You'll become more familiar with the group and it will become easier to contribute and that's when projects benefit - when the group works as a whole."
Another member of the board, Joey Newcombe, was very familiar with community service through his involvement with the Boy Scouts. While flipping through a volunteer newsletter, he discovered the Pinellas YAR.
"I've been a scout for about four years, and I wanted to be more active," says Newcombe, a freshman in high school. "I wanted to help the community as a whole and get involved with more people."
Since he joined the board in August, Newcombe has had the opportunity to get involved with a number of different groups of young people that the board aids with funding. One he is closely tied to through Boy Scouts is a fellow Scout who received funding from the board to build a playground for children at a local homeless shelter.
As for working with adults, Newcombe says that YAR is unique in that it develops leadership skills in youth through an organization that differs from many in that it puts younger citizens and adults on the same level, with the same voice in issues and community concerns.
"We really get to know what [young people] think about and their concerns," says Denzyl Joefield, a board member and coordinator for another community service-based organization, Youth On the Move.
Joefield joined the board after his organization received funding for a program that would help feed the homeless at a local Ronald McDonald House. He says besides keeping him out of trouble, the board gives him the opportunity to help other community groups and feel important.
"It's a good feeling because you get recognition for it," he says. "We've been helping the Ronald McDonald House feed the homeless for almost seven years and we'll keep coming back to get money [from the board] to continue that help."
To learn more about the Center for Youth as Resources and YAR programs, go to : http://www.yar.org
Visit the Pinellas YAR website at: http://coop.co.pinellas.fl.us/Yar/yarweb.htm
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