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How my service club can put youth at the center of our work

Posted on January 4, 2021
By Penny Collins

OptimistsAs a long-time volunteer with my local Optimist Club, I have been trying to find out how we can shift the way we include more voices in deciding our programing. On Dec 3rd 2020, I attended a workshop that was hosted by the Cities Deepening Community team at Tamarack Institute called A Professional’s Guide to Working with Young People in Citizen Space. This workshop was facilitated by Cormac Russell and used Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) as a way to put youth at the centre of our work. I went to this workshop with the perspective of an elected President of our local Optimist Club. We work closely with youth in our community and try to build events and donate to existing sports/service clubs that are for the youth in Baden.

Cormac started the workshop with a reflection on how we currently engage youth and why it’s wrong. Within the first hour he challenged my thinking and our club’s way of engaging youth that I am still pondering today. Here are some of my learnings that I wanted to share:

  • Helping can be harmful - being a group of adults we need to look at the things we are doing. Are the events/supports for our youth a result of what we think is good for them and instead of doing things that the youth need?
  • Is the change we want to make being done to them vs change done by them. Are we allowing/encouraging youth to build a community that truly supports them or are we building a youth community based on adult needs and wants for them?
  • Having a mirror group of youth: During the workshop one participant said that they never do anything that would affect youth unless there is a mirror group of youth that is part of the process. This was truly inspiring and I know that I will bring that back to our community and reach out to schools, sports clubs and youth groups to get ideas of what they would like in our community.

With those thoughts in mind, I have brought it back to what we do as a club and how as a club we can use the framing Doing To, Doing For, Doing With and Doing By. I am hoping to move our club on to the path to “done by” youth for the community to make changes.

Since the workshop I have been in contact with the local high school and have approached the idea of having a mirror Youth Optimist Club. The school was very receptive as they are struggling to get youth involved in the community. I feel that this will be a great pairing as our club needs a youth point of view. These youth will bring their parents along with them on their journey to make our community even stronger.

Thank you to everyone at the Tamarack Institute for organizing and inviting me to such an inspiring workshop.    

Learn more:

Topics:
ABCD, Cities Deepening Community


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