Written by: Eric Kilbride – MCCOY Board of Directors
As I considered topics for MCCOY’s Board Member blog entry, I reflected upon my 20+ years of involvement as a youth worker and advocate—the lessons learned, strides made and ever-present challenges, both then and now.
In the mid-90s when I joined the then two-year old Marion County Commission on Youth as a staff member, youth development was a rewarding, yet difficult, endeavor.
The socioeconomic challenges of the time were manifest and manifold. Though the economy was beginning to emerge from recession, social problems were significant—juvenile crime was spiking, school dropout rates rising, and central venues such as the Circle Center Mall were beset by gang activity.
The assembly of young people was laborious. Youth workers disseminated information to the community through radio ads, handmade posters and leaflets, and tireless recruitment…of course with actual participation often won through the promise of food.
Communication among organizations took effort. Faxed news blasts were regarded as innovative, email was yet a luxury, and websites were only for the exceptionally funded. Funding was precarious. Though youth organizations worked diligently to support and encourage young people with everything from basic services to developmental programs, they found themselves having to demonstrate improvements in deficit data points (not only difficult to measure, but of highly complex etiology) in order to secure the next grant dollar and keep the doors open.
Over the years, many of us have worked diligently. We’ve experienced successes, gained experience and learned valuable lessons. And yet, there will always be socioeconomic struggles, a paucity of funding, and difficulties in energizing communities. Youth development endeavors are still hard.
So what are the next steps? How do we better reach, educate, and invigorate young people? How do we better galvanize communities for positive change? How do we better coordinate our efforts to win and make best use of funding?
In the two decades since MCCOY’s inception, there have been marked advancements in technology and communications. Now, virtually every youth organization in town has not only a website, but a Facebook page and a Twitter following. Almost every youth worker has at least one email address and young people are convening virtually to discuss issues that are important to them. Only last year, energized young people using social media ousted the long-time theocratic ruler in Egypt.
“I want to meet Mark Zuckerberg one day and thank him […] I’m talking on behalf of Egypt. […] This revolution started online. This revolution started on Facebook. We would post a video on Facebook that would be shared by 60,000 people on their walls within a few hours. I’ve always said that if you want to liberate a society just give them the Internet.”
– Wael Ghonim, Google marketing manager and catalyst for Egyptian revolution
Let’s be clear- I am not suggesting young people use social media to take down governments, but if young people can make this type of change in an allegedly “developing country,” can’t we harness these media to make even the smallest of policy changes in our community – to improve schools? To increase access to resources? To give young people a voice in their future? We have a means to connect youth to their peers across the globe, and to alert them to life’s possibilities beyond their immediate circumstances. We have a means to connect with one another to coordinate efforts, develop complementary programs, and to pursue ambitious projects. We need to use them.
There is no easy prescription or just one valid road to go down. Real, long lasting change comes from a collection of ideas and convening of stakeholders. Let’s start a virtual dialogue on how this can happen- and let’s do it now!
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