The Youth Are Here! mapping project is a remarkable story of adolescents and adults working together for the common good. In a year when most news about youth has focused on violence, some young people are using their spare time to let others know what’s up that’s good for kids these days.
With training, supervision, and support from adults, they walk the streets in teams in several of North and South Minneapolis’ most turbulent neighborhoods, including some in Camden. They talk with other young people, families, business owners and community leaders; they ask about places and people that are friendly to children and youth; they learn what kinds of positive opportunities and programs are, and aren’t, available to help keep them out of trouble and harm’s way. And soon they will work with designers to create actual maps of these resources.
According to youth development researcher Rebecca Saito of the University of Minnesota, this awareness raising is important because studies show that less than half of all young people participate in out-of-school youth programs. Youth in lower-income families and communities are even less likely to be involved. Barriers include not knowing what’s out there, not trusting that they are welcome, and not having enough positive people and places in their lives.
“If you believe, as most experts do, that all young people can benefit from captivating, high-quality opportunities and programs,” says Saito, “then you cannot be happy with this trend.”
Saito and her husband, fellow youth development expert Delroy Calhoun, started the initiative in 2005 in their Whittier neighborhood. This year teams are working in Camden and Near North, and along the I-35W corridor in South Minneapolis. Each team has its own unique flair. In Camden, collaborating to lead the effort are Cleveland, Lind Bohanon, Shingle Creek and McKinley neighborhood organizations, Hennepin County School Success Initiative, and the Jenny Lind and Lucy Craft Laney Community Education departments. Due to the size of Camden, there are two phenomenal adult crew leaders, Linnea Hackett and Ross Ayoka, supporting the effort. In Near North, Tangene Hayslett is helping his crew navigate a community that has been wracked with violence this summer.
Once the maps are created, the groups—known as Youth Action Crews—will deliver them to teens and parents in neighborhoods that census data show have high concentrations of young people. According to 2000 Census data, there are 16,123 youth under age 24 living in Camden. Youth-friendly businesses and organizations will receive large yellow “Youth Are Here!” signs they can post to let young people know they are welcome. Specific program and activity information will be available on the What’s Up hotline, 612-399-9999.
“This is a different story about young people,” says crew leader Ayoka. “It’s an inspiring one…one that needs to be told.”
Youth Are Here! is supported by the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board and the McKnight Foundation. Other partners include NorthWay Community Trust, Minneapolis Parks and Recreation, YO! The Movement, Wells Fargo and the University of Minnesota. For info contact 612-821-8866.