The Neighborhood Youth and Young Adult Council
The Neighborhood Youth and Young Adult Council (NYYAC) concept is fairly simple: it is a group of local young people who get together to act as representatives for the young people of their community. The NYYAC will act as an action-oriented advisory group that will identify the issues that members think need to be addressed and voice the youth positions on these issues. It will also give members a chance to learn important leadership and action skills and plan and direct the kinds of community service and recreational activities for themselves and other local community youth that they think are important.
The NYYAC Vision
The vision for the NYYAC is to create a mechanism for youth from the community to have a formal voice and direct involvement in the planning and implementation of programs for their community while also allowing them to express their feelings on all relevant matters. But the NYYAC needs to be more than just a way for local youth to voice their concerns. It must also be a learning tool, a vehicle for personal betterment for the individuals involved. As the NYYAC unifies the youth of the local community and gives them a voice in civic affairs, it will also instill principles of discipline and justice based on values for the individual members. As it functions as a valuable tool for teaching parliamentary procedures and acquiring the knowledge and skills of community organizing, it will provide leadership training for each individual. Personal responsibility and community development must proceed together. Therefore, the goal of the NYYAC will be to help the members achieve a greater understanding of citizenship opportunities and responsibilities and to realize that greater progress, through citizen participation, is possible.
The NYYAC will serve as a means for involving the youth in the events and decisions affecting their communities. It will introduce them to the concept of civic responsibility and the practice of civic participation, expose them to the resources and opportunities available to them in their city, and help them build leadership skills as they work to improve their communities. Specific aims and objectives of the NYYAC include the following:
Probably the most important two pieces in the NYYAC puzzle are recruitment and retention: how do you get youth involved and, once they become involved, how do you keep them interested? It may be fairly simple to attract youth to a specific event or activity, but getting them to come back and commit to long term participation is much more complicated.
A regular recruitment process is essential to a successful NYYAC. Regularizing the way the organization builds relationships with local youth organizations, agencies, and schools, will create an environment in which young people look to the NYYAC for opportunities in civic involvement and personal and community betterment. Someone, most likely the Youth Coordinator (a position to be discussed later in this document), must be specifically responsible for regularizing and managing the recruitment process. In addition to placing someone in charge of recruitment, regularizing the recruitment process means holding annual events, major fund drives, or policy initiatives, establishing consistent relationships with other organizations (communities of faith, community centers, libraries, etc.), and maintaining close correspondence with people in positions of contact and/or influence with youths, such as volunteer coordinators, guidance counselors, sports coaches and other leaders in the community.
But regardless of how "regularized" the recruitment process is, it must be effective. It is clear both from experience and numerous research efforts that the best way to recruit youths is also the simplest and most straight forward approach: to personally ask them if they would like to be involved. Promotional materials such as posters and flyers, and public awareness events are helpful and important ways to gather support. But, nothing has proven to be as effective as personal connection. Therefore, any recruitment effort for the NYYAC must begin with and center around personal outreach to individuals. A number of strategies facilitate this approach:
ŸFoster care programs that discharge older adolescents to independent living.
ŸShelters for homeless and runaway youth.
ŸEstablishments that rent rooms to young people.
ŸCommunity and religious organizations, and their leaders.
ŸThe school system, especially inner-city high schools and special education classes.
ŸDrug rehabilitation programs.
ŸCorrectional Facilities or alternative programs.
Retention refers to the ability of the NYYAC to keep young people involved and interested once they have been recruited. How can the NYYAC be interesting? What will inspire young people to commit to the Council and take ownership in its efforts? How can the NYYAC be structured so that young people want to participate? There are no certain answers to these questions, but various research efforts have produced a numbers of strategies.
One early finding from focus group meeting run to date is that incorporating some types of sporting activities, such as basketball, football, track, tennis, etc. will help keep young people interested in the NYYAC. (See Appendix 2)
In general, other retention efforts can be divided into three components: program philosophy, organizational structure, and action.
ŸProgram Philosophy: The idea behind having a program philosophy is to make sure council members understand, or at least think about, why they are participating. They need to know how participation in the NYYAC makes a difference and why the type of action being taken by the NYYAC is important, both for the individual members and for the community. The program philosophy will help provide a focus and a reference point when discussing potential new projects or activities, allowing members to unite against those in opposition to their issues.
In order for role of the NYYAC members to be meaningful, it is absolutely essential that members understand the importance of the work they are being asked to do. This means that the philosophy of the organization must connect directly to young people’s experiences and concerns. In the same way that crafting a good message helps with the recruitment process, weaving this message into an overall program philosophy that connects actions with goals can help sustain participation and interest levels.
ŸOrganizational Structure: The structure of the organization refers to how members are welcomed into the organization, who is "in charge", what is expected of them, how they are treated, and what they are asked to do.
a. Orientation. Many potential problems can be addressed through a thorough orientation process. There is no substitute for clarity of roles and expectations, and a good orientation will ensure clarity among all participants. At first, the NYYAC will undoubtedly be an awkward, unfamiliar situation for new members. A successful orientation will help new members adjust comfortably to this new situation. Some suggestions:
Most importantly, the orientation must make clear not only what young people can expect to get out of participation on the NYYAC, but also what will be asked/expected of them. They need to know exactly what they are committing themselves to and then be held accountable to that commitment.
b. Training. The NYYAC will need to have a regularized training program to teach members, especially new members, how to participate on the NYYAC and its activities. For example, members need to be trained on the requirements and responsibilities of NYYAC officers, how meetings are conducted, and how to act as representatives of their communities. NYYAC members can decide for themselves exactly what should be included in the orientation and initial training program. [Writing, citizenship, or local politics training are possible additions to the initial training program.]
c. Recognition. Designing a policy for recognizing the contributions made by members of the NYYAC will likely be one of the most complicated tasks in designing the Council. Recognition generally revolves around some type of incentive for participation, be that in the form of recreational activities, educational opportunities, or direct payment. The following are some possible rewards for participation:
ŸThe chance to get special training (computer, writing, phone, etc.)
ŸThe chance to strengthen leadership skills (strategic planning, public speaking, etc.)
ŸThe chance to be heard--to represent the organization
ŸThe chance to coordinate activities and events
ŸThe opportunity to "hob nob" with local leaders
ŸUse of office space, computers, and other equipment
ŸHelp with transportation costs (bus fair, tokens, etc.)
ŸThe chance to go on trips
However, from experience, the unique environment of Newark may require more than the above incentives, such as a direct payment, for example.
ŸAction: Young people have expressed the desire for the NYYAC to be an activist organization, as opposed to a forum simply for the purpose of discussion. Researching some of the problem areas for local youths and then targeting strategies for how the youths of the Council can actively contribute to finding solutions to these problems will need to be a central activity of those involved with the Council. For example neighborhood youth could be asked to consider solutions to youth violence, research how much of Newark's budget is being spent on young people, visited the city’s recreation centers to assess their adequacy, condition, funding, etc. They could present their findings to various other youth organizations and policy-makers throughout Newark and then try to work with officials to get their interests addressed publicly and to raise interest and support from other residents and voters.
Generally speaking, any and all youths are eligible for membership in the NYYAC. However, better stated is that membership is open to any youth of the designated target area who is in agreement with the aims, purposes, and principles of the Council, and is willing to accept its Constitution, By-laws, and discipline. While the NYYAC will be in existence to assist all youths, especially disadvantaged youths or youths experiencing problems, it must maintain order and discipline. If the NYYAC hopes to build a respectful body to represent the young people from the area, then only those willing to abide by the rules and set a positive example for other youths should be allowed to participate on the Council.
That being said, it is essential to note that the rules of conduct for the NYYAC will be subject to change by the members of the NYYAC. Therefore, while new and old members alike will be required to abide by the established rules of conduct, additions and/or amendments to these rules may be made through official NYYAC decision making procedures.
One requirement is that all NYYAC members invest in themselves, as the members themselves are their most important resource. Therefore, members are accountable for making themselves the best they can be. During their time with the NYYAC they will be provided with an opportunity to prepare themselves to be resourceful citizens for the community and for their families. They will be challenged to prepare for the rigors of adulthood and to assume a leadership role in their communities. The councilmembers development component will assist them in learning values, self-discipline and practical lessons that they will need to achieve their personal and professional goals
There will be three separate NYYAC age groups: those who are between the ages of 8 and 12 will be eligible for membership in the Jr. NYYAC; those between the ages of 13 and 17 years old will be eligible for membership in the Sr. NYYAC; and those who are between the ages of 18 and 25 years old will be eligible for membership in the Young Adult Council.
Each new member of the NYYAC will be required to agree to a set of rules and regulations (which are subject to change) and to sign a contract of commitment. The following is an example of a potential contract:
I, _________________________, fully understand the conditions for my enrollment in the NYYAC and accept the opportunity to improve my ability to be successful in my goals.
I further agree to do my best in trying to establish a new beginning as I represent the youth of my community. I promise to put forth a sincere effort and cooperate, respect the rules and regulations, build positive work and learning habits, and be dependable while endeavoring to rebuild my community.
I fully understand the performance standards and will endeavor to abide by them. I understand the consequences if I am unable to uphold the performance standards.
I fully understand the concept of "Community Service" and understand that staff members at IYO will assist me in producing proper work habits and attitudes as I work to rebuild my community.
I thoroughly understand all policies and procedures for the governance of NYYAC activities.
I understand the goals of the NYYAC and am committed to giving 100% as I help myself and my community.
I have fully read the IYO NYYAC Handbook and am prepared to assume my role as a Councilmember with the IYO NYYAC.
Councilmember Signature Date
Youth Coordinator Signature Date
Education is the foundation of the NYYAC. Be it focused on school, work, family, the community, the city, nation, or planet, the ultimate objective of the NYYAC is to educate people, to help them learn how to better themselves and their communities. NYYAC education will not be focused in any one direction or on any one career, but will follow the needs and interests of the Council members and centered around the themes of neighborhood development, community development, and leadership development. In general, members will learn by doing. They will be exposed to a range of educational opportunities and then be encouraged, either individually or as a group, to select certain areas of interest for further exploration. The specifics of the NYYAC educational program will be worked out between organizers, the Youth Coordinator, and NYYAC members. The following are some educational issues and areas to be considered:
If citizenship training teaches members how to be good citizens, community service can be seen as the practice of that citizenship, reinforcing through action the concepts of unselfishness, civic responsibility, and personal accountability. A successful community service project is designed with specific goals in mind, having a beginning and an ending and a set of benchmarks to encourage the learning of employability and other life skills, to impart some vocational aptitude in line with the individual councilmember’s interest and aspirations, to learn responsibility, leadership, teamwork, to reinforce a common moral value system, and to demonstrate that serving the community is as important as serving oneself. In this way, councilmembers will gain valuable work skills that will prepare them to find a job and keep that job until they are ready to leave. This connection between community service activities and the development of personal and professional skills for the individual councilmember should be an important component of the citizenship and service educational program.
As mentioned previously, the NYYAC is to be an action-oriented organization. The following are a number of arenas in which the NYYAC could engage.
It may also be possible to provide formal training for adult-run youth service agencies and health departments on how to increase youth involvement in program planning, or provide other services such as consultation and technical assistance to jail officials on strategies for increasing information to young people on prevention issues for incarcerated and non-incarcerated youth.
The NYYAC will seek to change adult attitudes toward youth. Youth must be seen as informed and active citizens and valuable resources for developing the community and achieving positive change, as opposed to past views of youth as threats to be feared, pathologies to be cured, problems to be solved, clients to be treated, victims to be protected, or incomplete adults in the making. They must challenge past perspectives, alter relationships between youth and adults, and open opportunities for increasing involvement in the community.
Central to the success of the NYYAC will be finding an appropriate Youth Coordinator. The importance of the Youth Coordinator position cannot be overstated. It is a big job, not just in terms of what the Youth Coordinator will do, but also what that person will represent: a connection between youths and adults, an advisory presence but not a managing force. The Youth Coordinator coordinates, and as such will need to strike a balance between taking charge when charge is needed and relinquishing power and control to the youths when this is appropriate.
The Youth Coordinator should develop an infrastructure to support youth action, to spread information on activities and opportunities, and to participate with decision-making boards and commissions to make decisions that positively affect young people. He/She should be a conduit for information and opportunities for activism and advocacy related to the goals of members, perhaps pointing out contradictions or injustices in society and providing members with the information on the issues that can encourage them to take action. He/She should seek to motivate members to action and advocate for them when appropriate. But in all cases the Youth Coordinator should set and maintain high expectations, establish professional standards, and provide encouragement or guidance for members to reach them. Youth must be expected to act in a responsible manner as it is a disservice to shield members from the consequences of their actions.
There is no specific background or degree that a Youth Coordinator must have. But proven ability and/or demonstration of the ability and vision to successfully serve in this position must be a requirement. An unskilled and/or unprepared Youth Coordinator could harm the NYYAC and detract from members’ experience.
This document has focused on discussing how to establish the NYYAC and how it should look. Now it is necessary to look at how to begin, how to get it all started. How is it possible to go from nothing to something?
Focus group meeting 7/16/99, 8 kids, ages 14-20.
Suggestions for what would make youth want to participate/stick with a NYYAC :
ŸHelp them find a job
ŸHelp them find an after school job
ŸTake after school and weekend trips
ŸSchedule a lot of activities, which should be fun, and can be educational, but no strictly educational trips, like to museums, etc.
ŸExperience a day in the life of someone working in the profession that someone/everyone wants to learn about or is hoping to make a career in.
ŸSet up a mentoring program whereby the youth can get advice from people in the careers that the youth want to follow.
ŸThe meetings cannot be boring, cannot be just talk. The meetings and the YC must be active.
ŸSetup sporting activities and teams.
ŸHold debating competitions, both within the YC and with other YCs. But essential here is that the youth choose the subjects to be debated.
ŸHave the YC plan and put on a block party, but it must be a project OF the YC, not just have the work done by the YC.
ŸHave the YC do a block clean-up. Doing this it isn’t always necessary to have food. Just music could be enough. The kids were against the idea of always bribing youth into doing things.
ŸRe: paid positions, paying some people (officers) but not paying others will discourage non-paid members from participating. If some people are paid but not everyone, then those who are not paid will not come. Alternatively, if everyone is paid a little, but officers are just paid more, then that could work.
ŸT-shirts and hats could be enough incentive, IF the members themselves get to design them.
ŸThe YC must be active.
Focus group meeting 7/20, 10 kids, ages 10-16.
ŸArt club--general art, drawing
ŸMusic--learning, playing, singing (Talk w/Lee re: Beverly Mckenzie)
ŸLearning other languages (Spanish)
ŸBring in special speakers--people the kids know/care about, i.e celebrities/sports figures
ŸGo places--sports games
ŸGet people to stop selling drugs
ŸClean up blocks, tear down buildings
ŸGo to movies
ŸGive classes--math (algebra), college prep, technical, career training
ŸMake videos--learn how to make rap videos
ŸHave clean up crews
ŸLearn how to flip--go to "flip city"
ŸNewspaper--learn how to produce a local newspaper; write about the good side of Newark
ŸLearn how to cook
ŸHave a pet shop
ŸGet an after-school job
ŸMoney--if only officers are paid, non-paid members would still come if there are good activities
ŸGive a block party
ŸHave a dance
ŸVisit the cookie factory--or other bakery/food producer, taste product and learn how it’s made
ŸGo to the aquarium
ŸGo to "six flags" amusement park
ŸHave computer classes
ŸBring in motivational speakers
ŸBetter the neighborhood
ŸSet up scholarships--academic
ŸHave safe-sex classes/learn about safe sex
Basketball, baseball, football, tennis, track, wrestling, swimming, golf, bowling, boxing.
Feedback for the 1991 UNITY JAM regarding what is needed from a NYYAC: