Citizenship and Civic Engagement

Citizenship and Civic Engagement

Since its inception, 4-H has placed an emphasis on the importance of young people being engaged, well-informed citizens. By connecting to their communities and leaders, youth understand their role in civic affairs and are able to expand their role in decision –making processes. It’s clear that Citizenship and Civic Engagement provides the foundation that helps youth understand the big picture of life and learn the skill sets that will allow them to become wise leaders for the 21st century.

Research shows that meaningful involvement in community service and developmental work experiences increases job readiness, builds life skills and other developmental assets, decreases alienation and other risk behaviors, and has long-term positive outcomes for both youth and their communities. Yet, low-income, high-need, minority youth have few opportunities for meaningful, career building, summer employment. These at-risk youth often lack positive role models, connections for employment and access to the youth development programs and opportunities that help to build the skills employers require of entry-level works. For some youth, legal, cultural, social and emotional challenges further deter their successful entry into employment and positive community life.

Youth Community Action in New York State

The Community Improvement Through Youth (CITY) Project promotes civic engagement, workforce preparation and asset development among youth. The Project provides the opportunities and support youth need in order to meet the challenges of growing up. Working with caring adults, CITY Teen Leaders identify local problems/issues by using various types of community mapping (GIS/GPS, photography, videography) and then create lasting, sustainable changes in their communities. Youth ages 13-18 may participate. Participants meet after school for training on team building, civic engagement, public speaking and other topics in preparation for leading their own community improvement projects. One example is the CITY Project in Binghamton. Participants identified a local not-for-profit in need of additional storage space. They also realized the need for local, trained construction workers. Under the guidance of the Homebuilders Association, youth learned about the construction trades, safety, planning and how to read blueprints. At the same time, they interacted with building trades professionals and community leaders, while experiencing the satisfaction of creating structures with their labor. At the end of the program, they donated a storage shed and benches to local not-for-profits.

Promoting local agriculture in a whole new way
4-Hers developed a community mapping project which expanded their communities local food guide. Youth visited farms, collected positional data and met with farmers to learn more about farm operations and products. They generated a series of maps, by data set, illustrating the locations of the farms. Maps were used to create an internet-based companion guide to the local Food Guide as an interactive website to connect people with the farms. The project helped farmers maximize profits, while consumers accessed the freshest, healthiest food possible at a reasonable price. Youth learned about Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technologies, improved decision making in their community and helped strengthen local economic, social and environmental well being. Working with local elected leaders, youth are assisting their community planning efforts by mapping fire hydrant locations throughout their county.