"Teen Up," an initiative of Partnership Rapid City, will create online youth engagement technology, provide opportunities for youth to participate in city planning and cultivate all that youth have to offer by engaging them in service and in advisory and leadership roles throughout the community.
What has been most instrumental to your progress?:
The mapping project has been invaluable, and in ways that were unexpected. The mapping interviews conducted by our teens were instrumental in creating community based understanding of youth engagement. The interviews opened many doors to new youth engagement opportunities, including adding teens in the Family Planning Committee with Community Health, engagement of teens at the Vets Center, working to add a teen voice to the resident review board for Pennington County Housing Assistance, the addition of afterschool teen mentoring groups with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and a teen representative on the board for the Black Hills Center for Equality.
Through the process it also became clear that Rapid City as a whole needed a centralized volunteer management system, with filters to allow everyone, including young people to engage in their community and affect change in areas of personal interest and availability. This led to the expansion of the 211 Helpline Center to now host the Volunteer Connections website. In addition to assisting our teens in locating opportunities and tracking their efforts, any community member can get involved through the site.
Teen Up participation in the Homeless Coalition Youth Task Force really opened the eyes of our youth, our local service agencies and our community as a whole. This awareness and inclusiveness has ignited several youth focused projects and related impactful work. The group began by focusing on the awareness of homeless and runaway youth, by bringing attention to the issue at the crosstown rival football game where both teams wore green shoelaces, all cheerleaders had green pompoms and the bands wore green gloves. This event garnered community wide attention from the media. From this, the three high schools promoted wearing green on November 20th, with each school creating their own activities focused on the issue. That day, Rapid City High School created a video truth booth, where students were invited to share their own connections to homelessness. A mini-movie was then created by a local filmmaker with these video clips, a powerful voice of homeless from the teen perspective. Four students presented this video at our state capitol rotunda as a part of the SD Housing Authority’s Housing for the Homeless Consortium.
Our Teen Up work with Women Against Violence, Inc. has become a new role model. Teen Up worked collaboratively with WAVI to create a teen theater group, Take ACTion. The group creates and performs skits addressing issues that affect teens; healthy relationships, sexting; drugs and alcohol, internet safety, etc.. This relationship is unique in that both WAVI and Teen Up provide guidance, support and resources. This is truly shared leadership with between both organizations, adults and the teen leaders.
Key lessons learned:
Great question. Number one continues to be the recognition that youth engagement requires the disposal of adult models and expectations. We are consistently reminded of this. There were several instances where we (adults) would have labeled an event or activity as a failure due to the lack of youth participation – not so for the teens. They are busier than a lot of adults and do their best to schedule their priorities. Add to that the fact that they may not have transportation, or may have had an unexpected family obligation, there are plenty of roadblocks that are beyond their control. Adults just need to keep the forward momentum rather than analyzing and focusing on a stumble. Teens will create a way to address what they want to address. If one opportunity passes, they will find another and move on.
We want youth to engage because THEY want to, not because they feel the pressure of adult expectations. The teens need to ‘own’ the work being done, then their passion and leadership become evident. Adults need to be ‘present’, they need to develop trust and build relationships with the teens.
Adults need to be open-minded, flexible and ready to go and get it done! Young people will lose interest and change direction quickly, they need to get busy. Be ready, listen well, plan and execute quickly, or the work may fall by the wayside.
Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving:
We would have to say both the inclusive and collaborative elements were most valuable. Teen Up is a community wide youth engagement initiative, it breaks through the barriers of school- to- school territories and aligns like-minded teens toward common goals and common impacts. This inclusiveness was initially difficult to cultivate, but now enriches the work of Teen Up with students from a variety of ‘home bases’ contributing their perspectives and energy. Teen diversity allows our group to learn from each other and support each other, generating confidence through support from their peers. Students collaborate with each other, and with community partners to address issues that the youth determine are important to them. Our collaborations with local agencies and organizations have provided extremely successful and rewarding opportunities for our teens.
Our Teen Up group will be presenting some of our work at the National Youth Leadership Conference in Washington, DC, April 9-11, 2015. Our Teen Up Ambassadors will be presenting a workshop, ‘Teen Up – More Powerful Together’. This presentation will focus on the value of inclusiveness and diversity within youth engagement.
Other key elements of Community Innovation:
Yes, having a ‘home base’ for Teen Up within Partnership Rapid City and the Rapid City Area Schools has allowed the work to really take root and develop its own identity. The connections of Teen Up with the Beyond the Books internship coordinators, the JAG program, and some of the incredible educators in our school district have been critically important in reaching and engaging teens. To begin, we really needed to be where the teens are – in our schools.
Understanding the problem:
The process has facilitated the transformation of teens from volunteers/helpers to truly expressing their own voices and creating their own work for an issue they are passionate about. The process has also facilitated the education of adults – allowing them to understand and tap the amazing energy and ideas that our youth can bring to the table. With both of these pieces in place, our teens are impacting and influencing social change in our community.
The impact and influence that the Teen Up group is having in Rapid City clearly reinforces our premise that teens are a virtually untapped resource. Their voice has impact and is shaping policies, procedures and direction within many of our partner organizations. Within our school district, the Superintendent’s Student Key Communicators have provided input which has made adjustments in class offerings, security, technology, food service offerings, and communication channels from high schools to administration.
If you could do it all over again...:
First and foremost, the right person needs to be hired as the coordinator. It is critical that this person have the skills, patience, energy and heart for this work. We were fortunate to find the perfect person in Kristin Kiner. Listen well, plant the seeds without preconceived notions about what might take root. Trust the young people and don’t stress about every stumble or failure. When teens are passionate and engaged, they define and direct the work. Adults must participate with them, be a part of their work side by side, not just serve as guides. This work changes all the time, the teens come and go, they grow up, their interests change as they learn more about issues that affect them. It’s exciting, dynamic and a fun rollercoaster to be riding on together.
One last thought:
Through our presentations, social media and broadcast news stories, we have been received inquiries about Teen Up, youth engagement and the model we have created. What we have done here in Rapid City could certainly be duplicated in other communities. We would be happy to share.