Photo Credit: Flickr user YouthBuild Philly
Today at the White House, Knight Foundation is excited to help present a new report with lessons on engaging some of the country’s most disadvantaged youth.
The Knight-funded study centers on YouthBuild, the national organization known for helping high school drop outs get a GED and job skills by building affordable housing in their neighborhoods. Yet since its founding, Executive Director Dorothy Stoneman has focused on engaging these young men and women in their communities, as a way to reweave the frayed community fabric needed for stronger neighborhoods and cities. This new research, by Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), shows just how well the approach is working, one alum at a time.
Among their findings: A significant number of YouthBuild graduates go on to become leaders in their communities, or turn that new-found sense of service into their careers. Many hold public office or are church officials, and more than one-third have become professional educators or youth workers. That’s extraordinary for this particular group of young people - nearly half of whom had expected to be dead by early adulthood.
Programs like YouthBuild are especially important to our communities and our democracy as there are few places that American youth – much less the urban and poor – can go to learn the basic skills of civic life. Political parties, activist church organizations, union and other groups that once served as training grounds have been losing young members since the 1970s, the authors note. Only colleges and universities – out of reach for the young men and women who end up enrolling at YouthBuild – offer that framework.
YouthBuild works because it provides a “radical departure” from the communities the participants know, offering family-like support, a culture of respect, and opportunities to develop civic skills. “We invite them to step into leadership roles from the moment they walk in the door,” Stoneman says. In fact, the ability to develop public speaking skills, often times by representing YouthBuild to the public, helped boost participants’ civic identities the most.
As Knight’s Paula Ellis says, the program instills the sense of self efficacy people need to see themelves as having a say in civic life.
“YouthBuild’s program creates a safe space where young people can practice their skills, and gain the confidence that ultimately leads to a lifetime of citizenship and giving back,” Ellis, Knight Foundation’s vice president for strategic initiatives, said.