Guiding youth toward greatness is central to the well-being of a community. In neighborhoods plagued with crime, truancy, and violence, circumstantial hardships build barriers that block visions of a brighter future. Leading disillusioned adolescents who are burdened by adversity takes added diligence to break past the psychological consequences of absent parents, abusive households, and negative peer influences.
Creating positive interactions between at-risk youth and the communities in which they reside is the first step toward improving society for future generations. Studies show that programs comprised of supervised recreation address risk factors for delinquency, such as alienation and association with delinquent or violent peers,1 and introduce several protective factors, including skills for leisure activities and opportunities to become involved with prosocial youth and adults.2 As a non-profit youth center, your offerings combined with community support can provide the necessary supervised reprieve to get at-risk youth off the streets and onto more positive paths in life. Leverage your programs by working with community residents and leaders to re-engage teens and serve as the positive example that is missing in their lives.
1. Shed Light on Extracurricular Opportunities
Community leaders and organizations need to first provide youth with awareness of alternative sources for reprieve from home life. Students not involved in extracurricular activities are 49 percent more likely to have used drugs and 37 percent more likely to become teen parents.3 Though extracurricular activities are proven outlets for constructive use of time, troubled youth don't see after-school programs as a long-term solution for current issues.
Ensure your programs combine a healthy mix of intramural athletics, service clubs, and creative outlets including music, art and, drama. While sport activities are the after-school go-to, not all youth feel comfortable in their athletic abilities. Once your program mix is in place, gaining buy-in from community members is imperative to increasing participation. Building positive relationships with school staff who can advocate for the importance and relevance of the services you are providing will help you reach out to students.
2. Get the Community Involved
At-risk youth centers offer a safe haven for youth willing to seek assistance. But for at-risk youth who don't actively pursue help, it takes feet on the street to gain awareness. Incorporate use of community resources to conduct local events that are geared not only toward youth but also their families and create the greatest opportunities for awareness.
For example, one Minneapolis city hopes to shed light on their mentoring options and sports programs that youth in surrounding low-income communities may not know about owing to a lack of resources. To bring their programs to life, the city initiative consists of hosting daily "Pop-up Parks," complete with food, music, and fun, that spontaneously "pop-up" throughout various parks within the communities in need.4
Get out of the office to reach youth in their own environments. They'll respect you and your organization and turn to you as a trusted source within the community. By helping them imagine a better future through neighborhood events, you can become the good example that is missing in their lives.
3. Bridge Work/Life Skills
At-risk youth often fall subject to the toxic environments in which they are raised. As we know, many succumb to violence, crime, and truancy as inherent options. At-risk youth need to be challenged to take charge of their lives by making decisions that positively affect their future. By doing so, adolescents may actually feel compelled to understand their options. Encourage youth to positively rebel against the negative environments they grew up in and channel their energy toward creating a brighter future for themselves. For this group of low-income, highly motivated individuals, offering solutions that provide a means to an end, such as career opportunities, act as a stepping stone toward success.
Collaborate with workplaces in the community to demonstrate how your program can enhance their workplace. By combining blended learning opportunities that incentivize students to gain school credits while working to keep youth off the streets and motivated to continue striving for higher education, you're building the bridge to flourishing careers.
How have you seen students and their communities interacting symbiotically? Let me know below, or on Twitter.
Sources: Photo; (1) https://www.ncjrs.gov/html/ojjdp/news_at_glance/207328/ (2) http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED435082.pdf (3) https://www.iyfnet.org/ (4) http://www.myfoxtwincities.com/story/25792669/pop-up-park-positive-programs-to-help-at-risk-youth-in-minneapolis