The Rural Community-Youth Development Program is a joint initiative between Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area and the Center for Rural Studies at Sam Houston State University.
Community development is facilitated by the ability of local people to mobilize resources to address local needs. Youth are in a position to be among the stable and long term contributors that help guide this process. Youth represent a vast and often untapped resource for immediate and long-term community development efforts (Barnett and Brennan 2006: 2).
Many rural youth struggle to decide whether to stay or leave their communities. Desires to remain tend to be related to family and community ties. However, there is a common perception that if youth leave their communities, their futures might be more promising (Bajema, Miller, and Williams 2002; Hektner 1995; Johnson, Elder, and Stern 2005).
Rural communities across the nation are therefore experiencing a “youth exodus” or, as referred to in the vernacular, a “brain drain.” Rural youth are leaving their home communities once they reach adulthood and many are not returning (Johnson 2005). As rural communities age and populations continue to be “hollowed out”, there appears to be no present workforce or leadership pool ready to promote the continual development of the community (Carr and Kefalas 2009).
To accentuate this issue, rural areas face unique challenges including poverty, less diverse economies and labor markets, poor civic infrastructures, and limited educational and career opportunities (Hektner 1995). With no ready population present to address these challenges, community leaders, practitioners, and policy makers are looking to solve this dilemma. The Community Youth Development Program is one potential solution to the “brain drain” being experienced in rural America.
The Rural Community-Youth Development Program aims to:
- Educate youth about their own community,
- Engage youth and adults with each other,
- Encourage the community to rethink investment in local youth, and
- Inspire and equip youth to contribute and become involved in their community.
These goals are accomplished through the following:
- Demonstration of opportunities in the community for work and careers, for leadership, and for filling gaps and needs within the community
- Engaging youth in community development - projects, volunteering, policy development, and decision making among businesses, institutions, industries, and organizations
Youth “provide an invaluable resource for program planning and effective evaluation. As youth are brought into and connected with organizations and civic roles that they have traditionally been excluded from, they can participate in active and equal decision-making at multiple levels” (Barnett and Brennan 2006:2-3). Through this in-depth engagement, youth will be linked to real outcomes, and feedback loops with youth, practitioners, and policy advocates will be created (Perkins, Borden, and Villarruel 2001).
- Forming partnerships between youth and adult leaders
The involved “partnership represents youth taking action with adults to be producers of their own development and shapers of their communities” (Perkins et al. 2001: 47).Youth are fully invested in their community and are empowered as full partners to provide direction, insight, energy, and efforts around problem-solving in the community (Perkins et al. 2001:48).
- Building connections between youth and the community, individuals, and organizations
“As youth engage in more sustained positive relationships with adults, other youth, and community organizations, they will learn that they are valued citizens of their communities. Such collaborations will lead to skill enhancement and confidence building traits, which will help prepare them for navigating toward adulthood” (Barnett and Brennan 2006:3).
- Developing and utilizing skills including leadership skills, interpersonal, social, and communication skills, problem-solving skills, civic engagement skills, decision-making skills
- Fostering citizenship among youth in rural communities
- Creating a culture of participation
- Promoting a sense of belonging, mastery, generosity, and independence in youth participants
- Encouraging communities to rethink their investment in local youth
- Nurturing sustainable community development through youth involvement and investment
The Community Youth Development Program “involves creating opportunities for young people to connect to others, develop skills, and utilize those skills to contribute to their communities” (Perkins et al. 2001:46-47).
The Community Youth Development Program is comprehensive and inclusive. Applied education is encouraged to occur throughout the community—not just in specific projects or in limited areas—as youth interact with multiple sectors across the community (Perkins et al. 2001).
WHAT IS INVOLVED
CAMP: At the start of the summer, selected high school students participate in a two-day summer camp within their own community. The camp is hosted by Sam Houston State University in cooperation with the local chamber of commerce or economic development corporation. The camp intends to orient the youth within their own community and prepare them for engagement and employment within the community. At the close of the camp, all the participating youth and employers are invited to a luncheon where they meet, discuss expectations, and overall aspirations with each other. If needed, a training for employers can be provided by Workforce Solutions.
INTERNSHIP: Participating youth are then employed for four to six weeks over the summer with a local business or organization. This employment within the community serves to significantly engage both the youth and adults with each other and the community.
BANQUET: Lastly, Workforce Solutions and Sam Houston State University host a banquet in August or September to celebrate and show appreciation for all of the hard work on the part of the school administrators, local leaders, employers, and youth.
For more information or if your community is interested in participating in the RC-YDP contact Cheryl L. Hudec at firstname.lastname@example.org or 936-294-4380.