By Janna M. Hall
Every year, on August 12, the United Nations celebrates International Youth Day, a day set aside to recognize efforts of the world’s youth in enhancing global society. In addition, this special day is also dedicated to encouraging and promoting ways that youth can become more actively involved in making positive contributions to their communities. After all, they are the future leaders who will shape the next generation. What today’s youth learn, the relationships they build, and the passions they nurture today will shift the culture, making it a better (or worse) place for us all. The goal is to ensure that they are making community involvement a priority and not an afterthought, and that their contributions to society extend beyond the limited walls of social media. We’re encouraging everyone —young and old—to get involved with International Youth Day and make the decision to make positive contributions not just on August 12, but beyond. Unsure of how you can participate in the special day in your own Richmond community? We’ve got you covered.
- Join Youth Mentoring Programs
Nowadays, finding a positive role model for the youth requires a little extra legwork. Many public figures, be they musicians, athletes, or even politicians, fail to realize how closely they’re watched by the very people they’ll inevitably pass the torch to. Too many rappers promote violence in their music and glorify materialism over spiritualism. Athletes also often glorify materialism, with their latest multi-million dollar contract making headlines over initiatives they’ve put in place to give back to children in their hometowns. And politicians are their own beast, often using their platforms to spew hatred, bigotry, and division over unity, promise, and hope for a brighter future. The message that we can work together despite our differences is one not often lifted.
What the youth need are real life, tangible examples of a positive figure who speaks their language. Whether from the suburbs or inner-cities, young people need role models who are close enough in age to be considered a friend, yet older and experienced enough to impart wisdom. They need someone who they can speak with regarding issues in school, receiving help in subjects older youth have already conquered. In handling conflict with friends, many young students need to learn first-hand the value of using kindness and understanding to handle problems, not resorting to violence that affects their education and/or safety in school and the community. Familial stress takes a toll on our youngsters; feeling like they’re alone in a house full of people or dealing with verbal or physical abuse at home affects every aspect of a child’s life. Having a mentor they can speak to will help them cope with these problems, and ultimately, they’ll be pointed in the direction of professional help where needed.
In celebration of International Youth Day, take the time to research programs like Richmond’s Church Hill Activities and Tutoring that allow volunteers of all ages to pour into the life of another young person. The Virginia Mentoring Partnership also provides training and assistance to mentors looking to get involved within their community, and offers a database of volunteer programs within the Richmond area.
- Participate in or Facilitate Community Cleanup Projects
A clean community is a happy community! Taking care of the place we call home has more positive effects than we know. For starters, it instills a greater sense of unity when neighbors or city residents join together to keep their neighborhoods clean. The results are so much more than a trash-free park, playground, or sidewalk; everyone who contributed will feel a sense of ownership and a greater responsibility to maintain the roads they’ve made beautiful. In addition, it motivates kids to join along, promoting a healthy, active lifestyle and allowing them to see the importance of taking care of the place we call home. Many community members take for granted the trash pick-up programs put in place that remove litter from our roadways, and don’t believe they need to play a part in maintenance of their neighborhoods. Facilitating clean-up projects gets everyone involved, and allows youth to see the role they play in maintaining a clean environment. Commission Clean City allows residents to organize their own community cleanup groups and publicize them on the Richmond.gov website so other members can join in. Take advantage of these types of programs and make giving back a part of the neighborhood’s blueprint!
- Create After-School Study Groups
Did you excel in math when you were in middle school? Are you performing exceptionally well in science as a college student? Are you a former spelling bee champ? Analyze your special gifts, talents, and strong points and put them to good use. Your experience, knowledge, and voice can empower those younger than you to apply themselves, even in subjects they may be struggling in. Learning centers are increasingly expensive for the average middle-class family, but that shouldn’t mean students can’t receive the scholastic help they need! As the school year approaches, look into creating after-school study groups in the local library to help students join together and better understand difficult lessons. If you’re still in school, encourage students in your grade or classification to create a study session for the younger students and share any tips or tricks that helped you remember key lessons when you were their age. Such techniques work no matter what classification you fall under. They’re especially effective in high school and undergrad, where lessons are best taught by those also currently experiencing them.
“As a fashion student, there is really no clear career path at the end of your studying road,” explains Janet Speight, rising senior at VCU’s fashion school. “Classrooms are a great starting point where you scratch the surface, but there should be programs and groups within the student body that allow networking and advice at a present level that some teachers may not be able to supply.”
Because of this need, Speight took on an executive role of the Stiletto Club, a student-led group where younger fashion students could come in and learn from the older students. They offered resume building, and former or current students working in the field would discuss their experiences and what the younger ones can expect. They even had an e-commerce day, where they showed students Photoshop and photography—skills they’d inevitably need further down their career path.
“Now, the younger students are leading it. It’s a constant rotation; each mentor has something different to offer,” Speight says.
The lack of funds should never be an excuse to let fellow students suffer academically. Our youth deserve allies that are here to help them exceed, starting in their very schools.
- Get Involved in Local Politics.
In today’s political climate, it’s important that our youth have a strong handle on what’s going on in their hometown and what’s at stake in every election. Oftentimes, younger citizens tune out any political conversation. They believe it doesn’t directly affect them because, well, they can’t vote! But that won’t always be the case. Eighteen rapidly approaches, and before you know it, it’s time to get the voters registration card and identify polling places in your area. And it’s about so much more than simply choosing whoever’s on the Democrat or Republican ticket; with each election should come an acute knowledge of what each candidate stands for, what policy change they’re pushing, and what policies they’d like to keep in place. There’s nothing more powerful than an informed voter, and our youth should be tuning into political conversations, reading often, and educating themselves on what it is they stand for come voting season. This International Youth Day, parents, guardians, and teachers should have open discussions with the youth on what’s happening in this year’s election. Discuss what each candidate stands for, and even get their feedback on what issues are important to them and their future. Our youth also have a critical role. Those old enough to understand politics, even to a small degree, should make an effort to learn who the local politicians are and what they stand for. Read the newspapers that come home each day, ask for understanding, and make sure that when it’s your time to vote, you’re voting for someone who speaks to your issues and interests.
Adolescence comes with a host of growing pains and struggles, but it’s also the perfect time to join forces with fellow youth to make it one of hope and promise. There are no limits to what our youth can accomplish when they decide to play an active role in their community and the lives of those who share it with them. This International Youth Day, be intentional in the effort given towards uniting the youth for the cause of uplifting and strengthening the community. Our future depends on it!