Investing our tax dollars to support quality community based programming is an investment in our society today and in the future. Changing our focus from punitive actions to preventive and nurturing actions improves families and communities. The average annual operating cost per inmate among facilities operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons is $22,632 or $62.01 per day. As of June 2006, 2,245,189 prisoners were held in Federal or State prisons or in local jails which costs approximately $50 billion per year.
Youth programs provide young people with a safe place to socialize play sports and receive tutoring/academic assistance. The most dynamic programs engage young people in activities developing their skills and talents while contributing to the community. The teen years are the time to have healthy exploration in order to learn and grow. Community based programming supports families in preparing young people for adulthood by challenging young people with responsibility for themselves, their peers, and their families.
Society focuses too much on entertaining children with TV, movies, and video games instead of engaging them with responsible community activities. This is preparing our young people to be children not adults. With so much stress in families, young people are too often left alone or with negative peer support.
Environments created through community based programming allow young people to come together to share stories, ideas and solutions to community issues.
I have learned while working with community based programming for over 15 years that team work and collaborative efforts allow young people to gain marketable skills required in today’s society. Interdependency created by team work fosters respect while developing interpersonal, critical thinking and analytical skills. Design programs with young people based on their vision for the community. Producing documentaries, community festivals, cultural events, workshops, newsletters, and gardens provide young people with a sense of ownership, belonging and responsibility. Engaging young people in maintaining a community creates the need for them to stay as contributing adults.
“It takes a village to raise a child” is an African proverb. Volunteer to work with young people by sharing experiences, resources, time and knowledge. Interactive programming with seniors provides young people a sense of time and history allowing them to tap the knowledge of elders with a different perspective than parents. Quality programming can exist if young people, adults, parents, and seniors work with program staff to communicate funding needs to elected officials. Communities must decide on programming not agencies.
If a program doesn’t exist, organize a group of your child’s friends to come up with ideas. Reach out to your local legislator to find out about funding sources and procedures. Youth programs can start from block associations, civic associations, churches, parent groups, schools, or even expand current youth program services. Involve youth in each step of program development, implementation and maintenance. Focus on problem solving to train young people to see challenges as opportunities instead of obstacles. Responsibility brings ownership for young people.
As Youth Director of Positive Youth Connection (PYC) in Southeast Queens, New York I designed a program that trained young people in events planning. Youth conducted meetings and coordinated the planning for events with other organizations and leaders in the community. Students, families and neighbors attended Kwanzaa Events, Summerfests, Talent Shows, Step Show Competitions, and workshops. PYC students coordinated with the school district and local schools to produce District Wide Conferences for junior high school students. Produced by young people PYC’s events were well attended, creating energy and excitement in the community as people worked together. Today many of these students are professionals, parents and entrepreneurs.
Provide young people with marketable skills and experiences through community based programming; they will create solutions for today and tomorrow’s problems.