In summers past, teens in
Knoxville and Pittsfield may have biked these familiar streets so
often that their hometowns are forever imprinted in their minds and
hearts. Chances are they've never canvassed business owners and
community leaders to find out what sorts of opportunities there are
for possible internships or if there are jobs that need to be filled
or created. That's the kind of map they'll be making this summer.
"We're concerned about the
vitality of rural communities," said Laurie Kramer, who directs
YouthWorks, a part of the Illinois Rural Families Program, led by
faculty members in the College of Agricultural, Environmental and
Consumer Sciences at the University of Illinois, with assistance
from University of Illinois Extension educators in those counties.
"We know from interviewing
rural freshmen and juniors in the College of ACES that many of them
choose not to go back to small-town living. They believe, rightly or
wrongly, that there's little economic opportunity or intellectual
stimulation there, even though they may have a sentimental
attachment to that place and see a small town as a good place to
raise a family," she said.
YouthMapping offers teens on
the cusp of adulthood the chance to think about what roles they
might play as adults in their communities. The teens will inventory
the jobs, resources and opportunities that are available to youth in
their towns and identify needs that are going unmet there as well.
"We'd really like YouthMappers
to be able to identify chances they might have to succeed in their
town, whether it's operating a skate park or a movie theater. Or
maybe they'll identify services that are needed in the community,
such as child care or a mental health clinic," said Kathleen Gary,
YouthWorks project coordinator.
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The teens will be trained in
interviewing skills, taught how to contact leaders and businesses in
their community, given T-shirts that identify them as youths
involved in the project and sent out to get to know their towns
better. They will use their experiences to create a directory of
area services and resources for teens. And, this fall, they'll be
invited to serve on a Youth Engagement Task Force charged with using
the information they gathered to develop ways to better meet
"YouthMapping will give these
teens leadership experience and valuable resume material," Kramer
said. "And, in the fall, we hope that community leaders will join
the Youth Engagement Task Force to address one of the issues the
YouthMappers have identified."
Later in the project, parents
in the community will be taught how to support their teenagers'
personal and professional development.
Kramer said she hopes bonding
will occur between adults and teenagers as the mapping project goes
"We hope that teenagers will
learn to appreciate the towns they're living in and that adults in
those towns will learn to value the teenagers' contributions," she
"But, beyond that, we hope businessmen and women will make a place
for these teens by providing internships or volunteer opportunities,
especially for juniors and seniors who will soon be graduating and
looking for work experience. We hope they'll see ways to create
opportunities for youth by making them partners in community
[News release from the