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  • Bruce Baker

CHEER Begins Preparation for Takoma Park Youth Development Summit

On January 23, 2014 CHEER held the first of a series of round table discussions focused on helping youth in Takoma Park successfully transition to adulthood. The series is bringing Takoma Park residents and community stakeholders together to create a collaborative effort to address major concerns related to local youth. The goal of these discussions is to culminate in a Takoma Park Youth Development Summit that will involve local community members, youth and institutions, and provide the resources and the means to coordinate a collective effort to fulfill the hopes and aspirations of youth, their parents, and the community. The Youth Development Summit is being co-sponsored by the Takoma Foundation and the Takoma Park Recreation Committee.

This first event on January 23 kicked off with a panel discussion with a youth participant and two local authorities on youth in Takoma Park. Cynthia James, Executive Director of Community Bridges, works directly with local adolescent girls through empowerment and leadership programs. Brandon Johns, Executive Director of M.A.N.U.P. (Making a New United People) works directly with local adolescent boys through social programs that emphasize education, social responsibility, self-empowerment, and economic awareness. Siryi Santos, a Community Bridges participant and student of Blair High School, accompanied Ms. James.

The panel discussion was followed by a question and comment segment that provided the opportunity for community members and panelists to suggest goals for what people in the community can do to support the youth in Takoma Park progress successfully to adulthood and gainful employment.

Below is a summary of the information provided by the panelists:

Brandon Johns identified three major issues affecting youth transitions:

  1. The lack of support for youth in the system. There is little to no support to help youth get jobs or go to college. For example, many high school students are unable to graduate on time because they don’t know that their studies do not fulfill graduation requirements until it is too late in their senior year. Some students never see a guidance counselor until their senior year.

  2. Youth lack opportunities and exposure. Many youth have not had opportunities to gain work experience or to travel. They lack experience navigating the social and institutional obstacles that exist in our society, and have not developed critical social and job skills.

  3. Youth lack people to hold them accountable. Youth need people to keep them on a path and to push them. They need mentors.

Cynthia James affirmed the major points from Brandon Johns about lack of support in the system, lack of opportunities, and accountability. She added three barriers with additional insights:

  1. Many youth have limited social and emotional abilities and lack critical thinking skills.

  2. Adolescent girls do not have the opportunity to develop positive skills in conflict resolution or how to communicate when peers disagree with one another.

  3. Youth are in need of positive behavior reinforcement from their schools and at home. James suggested using a holistic, two-generation approach to youth. If the home environment does not reinforce their growth and development, you lose the children 95% of the time. Working with families is important.

She pointed out that in middle school and high school young people often lose their peer groups. This is problematic because this is a time when youth need to be able to build rapport with each other and develop skills such as how to address conflict and communicate effectively. Community Bridges tries to follow youth to offer support and connection and help with setting short-term and long-term goals.

The nonprofit community and funding community can help provide the opportunities and accountability that youth need. Young people need mentors who look like them and who offer a first level of trust. They need more exposure to the diversity of the world, inspiration and motivation, and more workforce preparation support.

Schools are geared to academic preparation as measured by achievement tests, but do not teach youth to become job ready or to be life ready. We need to set those standards as a community. Affirming these ideas, Siryi Santos added that high school students need more counseling in school. Students are not aware of all their options, and they often need a wakeup call concerning their progress.

The nonprofit community and funding community can help provide the necessary exposure to opportunities and levels of accountability that youth need to flourish. This sentiment was mentioned in the 2013 State of the Union address, as the President laid out a new vision for America’s high schools, proposing funding to scale up innovative high school models and partnerships with colleges and employers so that all students graduate better equipped. In our community we can begin this work on a basic level where adults and youth can work together to build a level of trust. Then we can offer skill development programs like career awareness and/or job readiness training, financial literacy education, college application seminars, part-time employment opportunities, and counseling. All of these skills are truly about individual level mentorship where our youth can be inspired and motivated.

As a community CHEER would like to support the community in setting these standards. We hope that you can join us for our next round table which will be held on March 27 at 7pm in the Azalea Room of the Takoma Park Community Center.

CHEER will present a refined version of the goals and ask that you come with thoughts about proposed actions, programs or activities that promote youth and their successful transition into become an adult.

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