This is a third in a series of blog posts about the 2010 North Carolina Civic Health Index, a study that used data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey to assess the strengths and weaknesses of civic life in North Carolina. Among the study’s most notable findings was that North Carolina’s Millennial generation, those born after 1981, is the least civically engaged of any age group in the state. The low level of youth civic engagement among North Carolina’s Millennials is particularly disturbing when we think about a leadership pipeline for our communities and our state. If young people do not feel connected to their communities now, will they participate in civic life when they are older? And, what are the ramifications of a generation of unengaged residents?
In addition to the formal local government youth councils discussed in my previous post, there is a spectrum of strategies that communities can employ to engage their young residents in civic life. Youth on Board’s “Ways to Involve Young People” provides examples of activities ranging from simple to complex:
- Invite youth to meetings.
- Set up focus group meetings to ask young people what they think about a particular topic.
- Set up a youth task force.
- Have youth serve on policy committees or workgroups.
- Have young people serve as staff or trainers.
- Involve young people as part of a hiring or evaluation team.
- Involve young people as peer mediators or peer mentors.
- Ask young people to serve as budget reviewers.
- Engage youth as advocates or set up a youth speaker’ bureau.
- Set up a Teen Court.
- Involve young people in adult grant-making committees or initiate a youth peer grant program.
- Involve youth on boards of directors.
Whether starting out with a simple strategy such as inviting youth to meetings or a more complex strategy such as establishing a grant-making program, the initiative’ success will hinge on the existence of a youth-friendly infrastructure. For instance, if youth are invited to meetings, then the meetings should take place outside of school hours. Inviting youth to meetings that they are unable to attend due to their schedules will send the message that they are not welcome. If youth are invited to serve on policy committees or workgroups, they will need some basic training on the policy process and the topic being discussed. And, adults working on newly-created inter-generational committees should receive training on working with young people.
Youth on Board’s “14 Points to Youth Governance” is a useful reference for communities considering youth outreach efforts.
- Know why you want to involve young people.
- Assess your readiness.
- Determine your model for youth involvement.
- Identify organizational barriers.
- Address legal issues.
- Recruit young people.
- Create a strong orientation process.
- Train young people for their roles.
- Conduct intergenerational training.
- Make meetings work.
- Develop a mentoring plan.
- Build youth/adult relationships.
- Create support networks for young leaders and for adults.
- Accommodate young people’s special situations.