The future was the topic of "A Local Conversation on Youth Development in the 21st Century" held this week in Storm Lake. The "conversation" is part of 4-H's 100th anniversary celebration.
Seventeen people representing young and old from a variety of organizations met to brainstorm answers to one question: "Within the next three to five years, what are the most important actions we can take to create the future we want for youth in our community?"
Ideas ranged from a recreation facility accessible to the entire county to providing leadership training programs to youth.
Storm Lake High School student Dustin Smith took part in the conversation. "I felt it was a good experience, and some good ideas came from it," said the high school freshman.
A main item that the group discussed was continued support for some sort of community center. "I think kids would utilize it," he said.
Those who took part in the meeting were eager to develop ways to get the youth involved locally.
"Youth want to make a difference - we have to provide them the opportunity," said Pastor Steve Schulz of Grace Lutheran.
Some suggestions included involving a teen committee for special events in Storm Lake, such as Balloon Days or the Star Spangled Spectacular.
Smith said he feels attempts are made to involve youth, but said they could be more outright. As president of the Providence Go-Getters 4-H club, he already sees how youth are involved in many activities.
"Adults could make improvements at being more welcoming at getting us involved, but I think they do a pretty good job already," he said.
Rhonda Christensen, county extension education director, said many of the ideas generated Monday night should be implemented locally.
"I'm pleased with the needs that the group saw as issues, and the items they recognized are things that we can work on in our own communities and our county," she said. "We want to look at how we can involve our youth, and give them opportunities to help us build our community."
Some of the ideas participants came up with were providing cultural and arts opportunities, strengthening after-school programs, and coordinating youth service groups and activities.
Participants voted on what they saw as the top issues. The top six include:
- Creation of a mentorship system, activities and rewards for K-12 youth.
- Provide youth leadership opportunities.
- Continue and strengthen after-school programs.
- Provide access to parent education and youth development training.
- Support funding and programs for a community center.
- Provide opportunities for youth service learning.
In January a state conversation will take place, where representatives from all of Iowa's 99 counties will share and address similar issues.
The ultimate goal, 3,000 local and 55 state conversations later, will be to produce a final report which recommends the most effective youth development strategies in the coming years.
Christensen said she was pleased with the response in Buena Vista County. "People are usually more than willing to provide help or input," she said. "It's great to have willingness to help us out."
It is a grassroots effort to get local input to national leaders, she said. "Hopefully then legislators will see some of the issues and needs that communities have that have been voiced by community members, both youth and adult," Christensen said.
A reason for the national conversation on youth development is the 4-H 100th anniversary next year.
"What a great birthday gift to the nation," Christensen said. "Instead of building a monument to celebrate the 100th birthday, that we're doing these conversations within the United States to talk about youth issues."
On the web:
To view results of other local conversations throughout Iowa, check out http://www.4hcentennial.org/ and click on the "Conversations" link.