Recently I’ve been inspired by the voices of our youth. I think it’s easy to dismiss what young people have to say because they must not know as much as the rest of us. But how much space are we affording them at the table?
As a young professional in my career, I oversaw teen programs at a public library. My first Friday on the job, I opened up a meeting room and pulled in some bean bag chairs. I set up a little table with a book display, and I sat there and waited for the wave of laughing teenagers to crash in. I could hear them cramming into the elevator, jumping down the last half-flight of stairs, and the volume of their conversations occasionally diminished by a nearby “Shh.” A few poked their heads into the room (What’s this light doing on?) though most of the herd passed by. I didn’t understand why they were not immediately ensnared by my book display.
That’s because these kids weren’t coming to the library to read, or even study. My job wasn’t to get them to read. My job was to make sure they weren’t making out. After getting to know them over time, I soon realized what was really going on. Instead of trying to anticipate what they wanted, I just asked them. They were in the library because they were kicked out of everywhere else in town. They just wanted a warm place to hang out with friends. I couldn’t presume what they wanted based on what I’d been taught. I had to learn for myself. I had to talk to them.
It may seem like that’s a no-brainer, but it wasn’t something I learned in library school, it was being a part of a Collective Impact Initiative. Our group’s ranks represented members across all Town departments, coming together to better serve our community, and one of the simplest lessons I learned was: If it impacts the youth, involve the youth.
In collaboration with the Town of Suffield’s Youth Services Department, we’ve formed an Intergenerational Book Club to help advance important discussions across our community. Our youth have a stake in what lies ahead for the future of our country. Help them register to vote. Try to embrace the difficult conversation topics rather than endure them.
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