DCI visits communities all over the state and one challenge we are presented from the Western Slope to the Eastern Plains is how to engage and retain youth in the community. Perhaps one city representative put it best when he said, “Graduation day is the saddest day in our community because so many of those kids leave and don’t come back.”
Certainly, civic youth engagement is an important part of a community’s future. Unfortunately, engaging youth in your community is not a quick fix that will happen overnight. The development of a civic youth engagement program is a long-term process to gain long-term results. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get started right now. Below are a few ideas to help you get started in developing your civic youth engagement program.
1. Develop a social media presence. To communicate with the younger generation, you have to learn their preferred method of communication. The millennial generation and younger expect communication in real time. If you don’t use social media, you will most likely lose their interest before you ever gain it. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others will help you to connect with this generation. (See the article above for tips on getting started!)
2. Identify which issues are important to the youth of your community. Is there a park that young people frequent? Is there an art program that can tap into the creativity of kids? Identify the issues that will speak to the children of your community. A kid may be more inclined to volunteer to care-take at a skate or snowboard park for which he already feels some measure of ownership.
3. Create volunteer programs geared toward the youth. Whether it is out of a sense of goodwill or the desire to plump up a college application, many high school kids will appreciate the opportunity to volunteer. A community that you have helped to build, even in some small way, is a community that you will have pride in over the long term.
4. Create a culture of mutual respect. If you have programs that can partner youth with adults to work together on a specific project, be sure that you promote an environment that shows mutual respect for each generation’s abilities. For example, members of the younger generation are likely to be tech-savvy and will be able to show the adults a thing or two.
5. Include a youth-oriented aspect in your local events. Does your community have a signature event? A local event that includes music or other interests for the younger generation will reinforce, if subconsciously, that they are valued in the community. Do not overlook the fact that kids will be more likely to love a community if they have enjoyed living in it.
6. Promote Colorado Municipal League’s “If I Were Mayor…” essay contest. Open to seventh and eighth graders, the contest aims to get middle schoolers thinking about community involvement. Four winners will receive certificates of achievement, $500 to establish a scholarship account with CollegeInvest, and the opportunity to attend CML’s Annual Conference on June 21-24 in Vail.
To help you start to create your youth engagement strategy, check out these free resources:
Heather Garbo is the Director of Communications & Development at Downtown Colorado, Inc.