What makes involvement meaningful? Context, self-determination and purpose.
In this case, context is a state of consciousness about who I am as an individual, where I am in relationships to the people and world around me, and why my actions as an individual affect the larger communities that I am a member of. Self-determination is the ability a person has to drive their own existence; in context, self-determination can help people understand what, when, who and how I can impact those around me, and allow me to make informed, candid and comprehensive decisions in acknowledgment of the world I live in. Purpose is necessary for all notions of success or accomplishment, and while those notions motivate people in different ways, having purpose is central for all life. It can be grandiose or mundane; self-centered or globally-aware. These three characteristics are largely what makes involvement meaningful.
I contend that this question has similar answers across the age spectrum, and that what I’ve learned about young people can be attributed to anyone of any age. I learned all of this over the last 10 years, working with folks across the country and around the world as they make meaning of the jobs, tasks and goals they have taken on, generally regarding young people, sometimes including the larger community around them.
Almost ten years ago I learned about “meaningful youth involvement” from Cyndy Scherer, Pam and Jim Toole, and others involved in the Points of Light Foundation’s YES Ambassador program. I learned about the tools they believed fostered meaningfulness, including service learning and youth forums, and was exposed to an initial set of ideas and experiences designed to increase my awareness of the concept of meaningful youth involvement.
My own learning about meaningfulness has extended far beyond that initial exposure, as I’ve had many experiences, read and studied a lot, and critically examined my own assumptions and the assumptions of others. Today I move forward in my work, continuing to peel the fruit that is meaningfulness, and inviting you to come along with me.