Exploring the Impacts of DCI’s 2013 Youth Engagement Series

13 Mar

Throughout 2013, DCI held a series of Youth Engagement workshops designed to explore ways of integrating youth into community planning. Several workbooks that will help continue these efforts are being developed – they will be available for purchase soon. Darcy Varney Kitching, M.Ed., MURP, takes a look at the results of this series. 

DCI’s 2013 youth engagement series taught rural community leaders how to engage youth in professional development, leadership training and volunteerism to support downtown revitalization around four themed modules: management, marketing and communications, physical improvements and economic restructuring. The workshops were premised on the idea that engaging youth in community-focused opportunities is a key to maintaining a healthy economy and a skilled workforce in rural Colorado.

Several attendees took that concept to heart, reporting back that the workshops gave them the tools and confidence to expand opportunities for young people in their towns. So far, we have heard from four communities that are directly implementing the ideas in the youth-engagement workshops: Ridgway, Lake City, Brush, and Victor. In these communities, nearly 90 young people have benefitted from youth-engagement programs that were started or enhanced following the DCI youth-engagement workshops in 2013.

Towns are encouraging new ways of creating opportunities for youth. Diedra Silbert from the town of Ridgway provided an example when she responded to our recent survey on the impacts of the workshops, saying, “The DCI sessions were helpful to me personally because working to include and empower youth is extremely important to me and as a new employee of the Town, I wasn’t yet aware of the Town’s commitment to this. Discussions from the training you offered highlighted this and got my supervisor and me on the same page about the importance of including youth wherever we can make that happen.”

Ms. Silbert was inspired to help Ridgway expand their youth-engagement efforts beyond parks planning and youth-oriented activities; she hosted a high school intern in her office, providing a valuable professional development opportunity that did not exist before the DCI trainings. Wrote Ms. Silbert,

“In Ridgway last Fall, a high school junior interned with me, working on Main Street and Creative District projects. She is an amazing and talented gal who came to us and asked if she could do this because she’s potentially interested in government as a career. She was oriented to each Town department by the department head, wrote a journal of her experiences in the first part of the internship, and submitted a written and visual/oral proposal to our Town Council on her recommendations about what the Town could do to increase youth involvement at the end of her internship. She also helped me put together a survey for businesses and got the ball rolling by interviewing the first five businesses. Sadly, she couldn’t fit another semester of interning here into her schedule, but we hope she might be back next year!”

Opening local government and decision-making bodies to the idea of working with young people and giving them the tools and understanding about how to create authentic youth-adult partnerships were main objectives of the DCI youth-engagement workshops. Clearly, Ms. Silbert and her colleagues got the message and were inspired to try new ways of working with young people as a result.

Leaders in Lake City, Colorado, also implemented the ideas from the workshops, creating a whole new service learning and professional development program for young residents. Kristine Borchers, executive director of the Lake City Downtown Improvement and Revitalization Team wrote,

“We have created a Community Youth Corps that completes meaningful service projects in Town Park, works with downtown business owners and the Trails Commission to improve pathways for consumers, residents and visitors, partners with federal land management agencies with projects, and much more. This is a workforce development project and students go through a resume-writing and interview process as well.”

In Brush, Colorado, leaders engaged in the revitalization of a downtown landmark, the movie theater, were inspired by the DCI workshops to bring youth into the process in a new way. Marketing Specialist Tyler Purvis wrote,

“For a while we have had the FBLA advisor as a part of the Economic Restructuring Committee, and tried to utilize the students in different capacities, mainly for civic events. However this past fall, we wanted to bring the students in more and invited them to the meeting where they were able to express their own thoughts on matters. From this, they have taken initiative and become some of the main drivers in a local campaign to save a historic theatre from having to close because of the new digital requirements being implemented. This has created excitement and discussion among civic leaders, and we would like to further tap into a greater youth engagement effort.”

Authentic youth engagement takes time and often requires major changes in the mindset of local leaders. We planted seeds in 2013; we expect to see more great programs and opportunities growing as we continue to check in with the attendees throughout 2014. With the publication of the themed youth-engagement workbooks that present the outcomes of the workshops and provide more tools for participants, we expect our membership to offer more and more ways for young people to develop professionally, create and take advantage of local employment opportunities and stay in or return to their hometowns.

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Darcy Varney Kitching, M.Ed., MURP, is an educator and an urban planner interested in the development of child- and youth-friendly communities.

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