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SCI and the Gloucester Youth Council: Let Youth Voices be Heard
Since Fall 2013, SCI has partnered with the Healthy Gloucester Collaborative providing training and support for the HGC-sponsored Gloucester Youth Council. Though they serve many functions in the Gloucester community, the mission of the group is to spread accurate information about teen substance abuse in Gloucester while working closely with adult leaders and peers to prevent future substance abuse.
This spring, I have been called in to work more closely with the youth, providing support as they transition to a permanent advisor. Though I’m only a few weeks in to my new role, I am already inspired by the leadership, poise, and empathy exhibited by the youth (ranging in ages 15-18). In this school year alone, the council has organized and led a Town Hall Forum in which they presented statistics and led small-group discussions, created a “Social Norms” campaign in which they disseminate information about teen substance use in a constructive, positive way, and travelled to the State House for Kick Butts day to see GYC member Kelly Hurd presented with a Statewide Youth Leadership Award.
What is perhaps most remarkable about this group is their understanding of how, despite their many accomplishments, the odds seem to be stacked against them. When asked about their biggest challenges, nearly all of the youth expressed frustrations resulting from key adults not taking them seriously. Though the youth are constantly generating new strategies and program ideas, they are often met with skepticism and condescension from adults when trying to bring them to fruition. The problem is so prevalent that youth have discussed organizing a workshop on ageism to train adults on how to work constructively and respectfully with their youth allies.
Last week, SCI President David Crowley and I led a training in which we addressed some of these issues and brainstormed with the youth to find solutions and positive action steps. The youth identified key adults in their community, their interests and influences, and how their own social networks could be leveraged to reach the adults in question.
It was great to work constructively with the youth leaders to develop strategies, but I fear the underlying problem here is widespread. As a new generation of young leaders is emerging, equipped with knowledge of new technologies and access to information that those over 40 couldn’t have imagined as teenagers, we have a responsibility to listen these uniquely knowledgeable voices. Instead of merely complaining about the apathy of youth and the time spent looking at screens, we need recognize extraordinary young leaders in our communities. The members of the Gloucester Youth Council, like youth leaders throughout the country, have taken a brave stance against harmful behaviors and served as positive examples to their peers and adults alike. In turn, we need to be amplifying these young voices rather than diminishing or underestimating them. I, like many of my fellow SCI AmeriCorps members, have seen with my own eyes that this generation has the power to make positive change in the world. Instead of blocking their path, let’s provide support they need and, finally, clear the way.