Youth Civic Engagement

Mayor's Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Allentown, Pennsylvania 
Population: 118,000 
Contact: Ismael Arcelay, Head of the Office of Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships, (610) 437-7743, arcelay@allentowncity.org 
AMEN 

A.M.E.N. Midnight Basketball Team 
(Photo: Office of Faith-Based and 
Neighborhood Partnerships)

The Mayor's Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in the City of Allentown was established in 2008 to assist local faith-based groups and grassroots community organizations. The office serves as a liaison between the city administration and these local groups by providing capacity training opportunities to assist in the development of programs and resources to meet community needs. To date, more than 80 faith-based organizations and 140 community groups are a part of this initiative. 

One of the projects that the office is involved in is the Allentown Mentoring and Enrichment Network (AMEN). AMEN aims to link youth age 12 to 17 to basketball coaches and mentors to provide personal and professional help, help them refrain from drugs and gang involvement, encourage them to pursue post-secondary education and ultimately duplicate these efforts into generations to come.

There are four components of the program. 

First, the Midnight Basketball project provides a safe and fun environment for students to play basketball; teaches them basic principles of sportsmanship, accountability, verbal etiquette and interpersonal skills and promotes a healthy and physically active lifestyle. 

Second, the mentoring project provides students with mentors who work with educational facilitators to follow-up on the students' educational progress, serve as positive role models, motivate each student and work with parents or guardians. 

Third, the tutoring component gives students the opportunity to enroll in hands-on tutoring via partnerships with local and regional tutoring companies and provides computerized assessments, personalized tutoring plans and GPA (Grade Point Average) monitoring. 

Fourth, the Career Apprenticeship Mentoring Partnership connects students to professionals, partners with local and regional companies in order to establish internship programs and develops activities to reduce high school drop-out rates.

Youth Advisory Commission

Fremont, California 
Population: 209,000 
Contact: Rena Dein, YAC Advisor/ Recreation Supervisor, (510) 494-4344, rdein@fremont.gov  

The City of Fremont's Youth Advisory Commission is charged with being the voice of Fremont's youth. This initiative began in 1989 after the city council met with the student body presidents in the Fremont Unified School District to discuss issues concerning Fremont youth. 

To qualify for an appointment to the commission, candidates need to be residents of Fremont or attending one of Fremont's schools, be entering 7th to 12th grade and be willing to commit the time and energy required - roughly 6 hours per month. Commissioners give special consideration during the selections process to underrepresented districts and schools and historically underrepresented populations, such as minority young men. 

Thirteen commissioners are appointed by the city council for two-year staggered terms. The commission is self-sustaining, with some administrative support provided by the city. 

Aside from reporting to the city council, commissioners organize and attend meetings, workshops and conferences to engage the public and explore issues of importance to teen life. The annual flagship event, the Junior High Leadership Conference, is planned, designed and facilitated by the commissioners. 

The conference received the California Healthy Cities Special Achievement Award from the California Healthy Cities and Communities Network, a program managed by the Center for Civic Partnerships, under the Public Health Institute.

City Youth Council

Novi, Michigan 
Population: 55,000 
Contact: Sheryl Walsh, Director of Communications, (248) 735-5628, swalsh@cityofnovi.org

In 2005, the Novi City Council decided to encourage Novi youth to become civically active by creating the Novi Youth Council. The 19-member Youth Council is selected each year from area high schools by the city council. The purpose of the youth council is to provide recommendations to the city council concerning the needs of children, youth and families. The following topic areas have been selected for major activities by the youth:

  • Drug and alcohol prevention;
  • Connecting teens and seniors; and
  • Teen depression and suicide.

Program initiatives include the following: 

First, the council, in partnership with the Novi Police Department, initiated an all-night movie marathon, "Addicted to Movies, not Drugs," that happens every year at a local chain of movie theatres. Each year, the event raises more than $2,000 for a Novi charity, features drug education materials and provides announcements about drug education for broadcasting on local cable television. 

Second, the council partners with the Police Department in project "Sticker Shock," which places over 6,000 warning stickers that inform about the danger of underage drinking on packs of alcoholic. The campaign is conducted during prom, graduation and homecoming season annually. 

Third, in 2007 the Youth Council started the "Senior to Senior" Prom in partnership with Walton Wood, a regional chain of senior living facilities. Twice a year, more than 100 Novi seniors spend an evening with members of the Novi Youth Council, having dinner and dancing. 

Fourth, in 2009 the Youth Council started the Youth Hope Convention. The convention is attended by more than 500 high school students annually. The convention aims to educate teenagers about causes of depression, its attached stigma and methods of treatment and prevention. It features speakers, roundtable discussions, games and informational displays. 

Fifth, every May, the Youth Council meets with middle school students to educate them about Novi City government and invite them to participate in the Memorial Day Parade. About 150 students participate in the parade each year. The Youth Council is expanding the program to elementary school children and designing a book to educate the children about Novi. 

Sixth, the council participates in the city's annual Fall for Novi, a local festival that includes a parade, fair and other events. It organizes children's games and presents the city to the visitors. 

All of the above initiatives are conducted with a $500 annual budget. The key element of the council's success is volunteer help from residents, businesses and local and regional organizations. 

For the future, the Youth Council is planning to cover the sustainability issues in the city. It is working with local businesses to raise awareness of the negative effect of automobile idling. Informational signs will be placed in appropriate places. The council is also creating an educational book in partnership with a local printer that will focus on environmental friendliness.

Community Vision through the Eyes of Youth

Richmond, Indiana 
Population: 37,000 
Contact: Mary Clark, Community Action Liaison for Community Advisory Board to the Mayor, (765) 969-2361, mjclark100@comcast.net 

In 2003 the City of Richmond started updating its comprehensive plan and working on its implementation. Residents of the community created a committee that participated in the implementation process and approached the areas of environment, transportation, housing, education and youth. The mayor proposed to involve youth in the review of the city's comprehensive plan. 

More than 100 young people from elementary school to college age participated in forming a vision of an "ideal" city. Several challenges related to youth were identified from this process:

  • The drop-out rate and school failure;
  • Kids and families without resources and opportunities; and
  • Kids not feeling valued and included.

The committee and local authorities decided to take a two-pronged approach to these challenges. One was adult-driven, and the other was based on the input of the youth. 

Dropout Rate and School Failure 
In early 2008 the city held a local Education Summit where reading was identified as the key factor in school failure. In response, a community group of volunteers raised $150,000 and established the first Reading Academy for third graders. The reading program included home visits and meals for participants. 

The youth's approach was to keep children interested and motivated at school. Youth participants focused on interactive activities during and after the school day and quality relationships with teachers/coaches. Additionally, more than 250 kids were involved in the Richmond Civic Theatre's youth theatre "Stage One" which is run 'by kids and for kids.' 

Kids and Families without Resources and Opportunities 
In 2004 the Countywide Partnership for Youth was established. This is a coalition of local youth-serving agencies, educational institutions, governmental entities and individuals. The partnership formed the Youth Development Plan that included the following goals: 

  • To bring together organizations working with youth; and 
  • To gather information and seek additional resources for programs. 


During 2004-2005, the partnerships succeeded in securing $8.6 million in federal and state grants. The funds were spent on creating safe school environments, including alcohol, tobacco and other drug prevention programs and social and emotional support for students. 

Kids Not Feeling Valued and Included 
The youth involved organized and participated in many volunteer activities in their communities. Projects included food drives and clothing collection for families, neighborhood clean-ups, home repairs, tutoring programs, serving at the community soup kitchen and visiting nursing homes. 

The adult-driven solution for the third challenge was Kidfest, a collaboration among several teachers, the Mayor's Office, the Wayne County Historical Museum, several local educational institutions and many other entities and individuals. Since 2008, the collaboration has organized community parades, visits to the county museum, several festivals and other activities designed to help the children in the community feel valued and included. 

The young activists developed several approaches to the challenge of ensuring that the youth are valued in the community. First, they formed a Youth Advisory Board to City Government. The purpose of the board is to offer the youth perspective on issues in the community. Second, members of the Logos Lab School, a local youth organization that cares about animals, helped rebuild an isolation area for sick animals at a local animal shelter through fund raising projects. Third, after a request from the Wayne County Historical Museum, local residents, including youth, organized a Vision Committee that began identifying future opportunities for the museum. 

The City of Richmond's youth-driven initiatives were recognized by the National Civic League, and the city won the All-America City Award in 2009.

 

To learn more about NLC's work on youth civic engagement, visit NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families (YEF) page on Youth Civic Engagement.  Here you can access a variety of resources on the topic, including Authentic Youth Civic Engagement: A Guide for Municipal Leaders.  This guide, published by the YEF Institute with support from the Surdna Foundation, provides city officials with practical tools for promoting meaningful youth participation in local government.