As my mentor Henry Giroux is so deft at demonstrating, young people are especially targeted right now. In communities all over, children and youth are losing essential services built up over the last quarter century and more. Nonprofits, government agencies, and schools are cutting programs focused on every area effecting young people, including education, cultural programs, health education, recreation, and so many other issues. As you already know, they’re getting slashed all over the place.
In my work, I have traveled the country consulting different organizations to encourage best practices focused on youth engagement. We have to engage and re-engage young people in democracy. This must be central to the purpose of ALL nonprofits, schools, foundations, and government agencies, and if its not, then these organizations are NOT on the side of young people or democracy.
It’s an understatement to say that these are tough times! More than ever before, our young people need us and the work we do. Youth engagement activities are facing increased scrutiny to do complex work with meager budgets; providers are expected to live on less money while taking on increased responsibilities for other peoples’ children; communities are being abandoned when they need us the most.
HOWEVER, we can rise to the challenge! WE MUST. These are the days when we need to get real about youth engagement programs and the effects they have on our communities. Simply put, when they’re focused on democracy-building, youth engagement activities are essential for the health and well-being for all communities today. Whether in high income or low-income neighborhoods, nonprofit or government agencies, or on the weekends or in the summer, all youth engagement activities are an absolute necessity for the success of any community.
Youth engagement advocates must work together as never before to create community-wide networks to promote this reality. By joining, fostering, and sustaining robust, responsive coalitions like the King County Youth Engagement Practitioners Cadre, organizations and programs across the country can contribute and ensure not only their own existence, but support others’ too. I work with a number of these types of coalitions across the country, including those through the spectacular SOAR in Seattle and awesome Catalyst Miami in Florida.
Just like the Youth Engagement Practitioners Cadre, both of these organizations include an emphasis on youth engagement within their coalitions, and many other powerful strategies too. That’s the reason why they matter: Despite the times, you all are committed to sincerely, realistically, and deeply move youth engagement activities and programs that transform communities into the 21st century, despite the trends and counter to the critics.
Our world needs youth engagement like never before. Let’s see that, and get to work!