Disclaimer: I am tad bit of an incongruous source to expound on the role of youth in shaping community growth. As a Navy brat in India, I switched schools every year until the 8th grade. So, the concept of community was always a transitional presence. And now as a middle-aged parent, I confess that sometimes my teenage daughter is more mature than I am. However, one takeaway from over a decade in consulting is that expertise and experience are not the only wellspring for ideas.
This brings me to a topic tracing my thoughts over recent months: the role youth in community growth.
While we have notable community efforts such as the 2019 Student Big Table to involve youth, we should ask ourselves if in all our discussions about a better tomorrow, how deeply are we involving the people who actually will be owning tomorrow? Are we really tapping the potential of our youth and giving them an opportunity to grow and participate in shaping the future of the Quad Cities?
Let us take a closer look:
Marketing principles dictate that probability of success improves when one invests in learning the needs and caters to the demands of their market. So, it stands to reason that the cities and their stakeholders should engage youth in shaping the future and well-being of their community.
It’s "traditional" for preceding generations to typecast youth with either lackadaisical indifference or being distractingly disruptive — they lack the maturity and gravitas to participate in complex scenarios.
History paints a different picture. Susan B. Anthony was 17 when she collected votes against anti-slavery and 10th grader Kathy Ochoa was part of the Chicano high school students who staged a walkout in '68 to support Mexican-American history and culture be in included in school curriculum.
A comprehensive initiative requires universal participation across all cross-sections and the outcome of public-private partnerships. City government, commissions and business associations entrusted with community growth should coordinate with schools to provide an operational channel for participation and involve the family unit to share the message and recruit students.
Organizational entities should review their compositions and discuss options to include youth/student representation. The objective is not to have a separate group for youth but actually give them a seat at the table to participate. Now, we can host a separate commission that helps youth representatives share updates and discuss priorities, but the overall objective should be youth participation across different areas of opportunity.
We live in transactional times and expecting busy students to volunteer is selling this opportunity short. Schools should explore building participation this into their curricula as extra-credit or academic/personal growth opportunities.
In short, we should investigate an organized grass-roots system in how cities and communities can involve youth. Economic development seems to center on listing new businesses. However, for long-term stability and quality of life, the active participation of youth and therefore quality of life is an important component. Participation begets investment which in turn fosters allegiance to stay and grow.
To adapt the all-familiar African proverb:
"If it takes a village to raise a child, it is the children that will raise the village."