This report offers eight case studies and a number of short profiles documenting efforts that connect the dots between youth action and meaningful community change. The publication begins with reflections on why it is often so hard, especially in the United States, for young people to find the space needed to make a difference in their communities. And it offers detailed and abbreviated case studies of successful efforts – in the United States and abroad – in order to understand better how and why some youth acts do yield positive community impacts.
The idea that young people can and should work in partnership with adults to improve conditions in their communities has gained currency in the past decade. Young people are being asked to sit on boards, submit ideas and support community efforts through structured (sometimes required) volunteering. And, increasingly, young people are not waiting to be asked.
But, as with most ideas, it is not always clear why young people are being encouraged to participate. To occupy idle time? To apply academic knowledge and gain real-life work experiences? To give back to communities? To develop lifelong habits?
How often are young people being engaged because we believe they can truly make a difference in the things important to adults?
How often are adults really supportive when young people take initiative to move on ideas that are important to them? How much overlap is there in their views of what needs to be done and how?
For three years at the turn of the 21st Century, with the support of the Ford Foundation, the Forum for Youth Investment struggled with these questions, engaging advisors, learning group members and others in the United States and around the world. Fundamental questions of rights and responsibilities. Socio-political questions about expectations and perceptions. Practical and pedagogical questions of youth and adult capacity building. Systemic questions about field building and key institutions.
Youth Acts, Community Impacts captures some of the lessons learned as we struggle with these questions.
It focuses on reality, forcing the question of whether or not we have powerful examples of community impacts that are the result of youth acts. We ask why these are not more frequent, what it might take to support them, and how youth action relates to community building and community development.
In response to this challenge, Youth Acts, Community Impacts offers eight case studies — and a number of short profiles — documenting efforts in the United States and around the world, all connecting the dots between youth action and meaningful community change. The publication begins with reflections on why it is often so hard, especially in the United States, for young people to find the space needed to make a difference in their communities. And it draws lessons from successful efforts, aiming to identify how and why some youth acts do yield positive community impacts:
1. Lubec Aquaculture Project: Students bring new opportunities to struggling economy. Lubec High School’s aquaculture project grew out of a commitment to student learning and vocational education, but has ended up creating jobs and bringing new hope to a small Maine town.
2. Cambodian Volunteers for Community Development: Youth and adults building skills, rebuilding neighborhoods, reclaiming a country. CVCD — a youth-founded grassroots community-based organization — uses education and community service as tools for neighborhood revitalization, economic development and civil society building, mobilizing thousands of young people and adults.
3. The Food Project: Young people building community from the soil up. Always working to connect youth development and community agriculture, The Food Project helps community members meet the basic need for healthy, available food.
4. Philadelphia Student Union: Youth create serious change in troubled urban schools. PSU is a youth-led, political organizing effort mobilizing inner-city students to address school injustices.
5. Cefocine: Young leaders turn around their communities — using arts and play. Using an unlikely combination of play, arts, gang intervention and entrepreneurship, Cefocine’s young leaders build local economies, stop violence and revive hope in Ecuador.
6. Educational Video Center: Young filmmakers shine light on community problems. EVC is a New York City-based arts education nonprofit, targeting a wide range of community problems and linking with community organizers and advocates to add new momentum to a range of change efforts.
7. Southeast Alaska Guidance Association: Blending youth development and conservation to change lives and communities. SAGA, a youth conservation corps with its roots in the outdoors, has broadened its efforts to play a vital role in housing development and human services.
8. Mathare Youth Sports Association: From recreation to reclamation. MYSA, a youth recreation program, uses its human and physical resources to take on vital community functions from trash collection to HIV/AIDS education.
Youth action starts in many places. It ends up producing powerful impacts in every aspect of community life. These are the bottom-line lessons of the stories in the pages that follow.
This publication is written as a companion to Youth Action: Youth Contributing to Communities, Communities Supporting Youth (Irby, Ferber & Pittman, with Tolman & Yohalem, 2001). Where this publication documents practice, Youth Action focuses on theory, developing clear definitions of types and goals of youth action, exploring what it takes to support it and documenting how it relates to youth development and community development. Importantly, while this publication begins with a discussion of challenges, Youth Action focuses on opportunities — describing the trends and fields converging on youth action as a powerful area of work. We hope that the two publications add up to a balanced view of the forces affecting young change makers and their adult allies.
Read the full report (PDF).
Note: this resource was originally published in 2001. It was reviewed and updated in January 2018.