Youth empowered to plan and develop community improvement projects

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[headline]By: Diana Cecaido, YES Research Assistant[/headline]

The Genesee County After School Study is a NIH funded study, comparing youth in standard after-school programming to youth enrolled in the Youth Empowerment Solutions for Positive Youth Development (YES) program. The GCAS began in 2010, and as the fourth year comes to a close, 274 youth have been enrolled in the study, with 187 of those youth completing the YES program. The study is taking place at eight schools in Genesee County, with students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade.

IMG_3087-1A major component of the YES program is the opportunity for youth to develop and implement a community improvement project that they design as a group. Towards the beginning of the program, students take part in a windshield tour and complete a Photovoice project, where they identify the assets and liabilities of their community, while documenting them through photographs. This activity assists youth in assessing their community needs and thinking about what type of project they would like to implement.

Past projects include donating blankets to patients with cancer at Mott Children’s Health Center, building picnic tables for the Ligon Outdoor Center, and creating and hanging an anti-violence banner in the school hallway.

Implementations of the 2013-2014 projects have begun, with Beecher Middle School and Northwestern High School completing the YES program. Students at Northwestern planned an afternoon full of games and snacks with the families at the Shelter of Flint. They selected toiletries, socks and toys to pack in school backpacks and delivered these to the children and babies at the shelter.beecher8

Students at Beecher planted their very own flower garden, titled “The Colorful Valley.” Throughout the planning process, the students learned about gardening and researched the flowers they wished to plant. The day of the project played out exceptionally well, with students enthusiastically painting the raised flower beds in an assortment of colors and designs, followed by getting their hands dirty in the soil, and ending with the planting of the flowers. The two flower beds are located at the entryway of an area that will be transformed into an outdoor classroom in the near future.

The remaining schools are in the process of finishing the YES program, and have already begun planning their community projects. These projects vary from painting and creating a picnic area in an unused school pavilion, planting trees, and refurbishing school trophy cases to instill school pride.

The YES community projects have, and will continue to empower youth with the skills, knowledge, and belief that they can have a positive impact on their community.