Monday, June 14


Promoting small-town life and opportunities to teens     Send a link to a friend

[JUNE 14, 2004]  In two rural Illinois communities this summer, 16 of next fall's high school juniors and seniors will take to the streets as YouthMappers, intent on getting to know their communities better than ever before.

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 teenagers' needs.

"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 forward.

"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 said.

"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 development."

[News release from the governor's office]

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