Engage youth in your community
Young people are a big part of our communities. Getting them involved in neighbourhood events and activities can benefit everyone. To involve youth in your community, it’s important to develop interesting opportunities for them.
The difference young people make
Everyone benefits from having young people involved in community activities. Youth get the opportunity to develop skills, knowledge and experience. This helps them:
- build self-confidence
- learn to work with others, both their peers and adults
- learn how to step up to leadership roles
- develop a spirit of volunteerism and civic participation
Young people can also bring many benefits to your community activities. Youth are creative and technically knowledgeable. They can contribute new perspectives, energy and different skills to help make your event or activity reach a wider audience and engage young people.
How to encourage youth to get involved
- Ask young people to participate. Invite them to help at a neighbourhood activity that you are planning, or take part in developing a new one.
- Empower young people as decision-makers. Encourage them to play an active role on event or activity committees.
- Support diversity. Involve youth who may not otherwise be included because of language barriers or a disability.
- Focus on their strengths. Identify activities and tasks that focus on the many strengths that young people have. This might include planning or providing entertainment for an event, developing a social media page for the community, or developing ideas for engaging youth.
- Spread the word. Encourage other adults to invite youth to participate or play a decision-making role in their programs and activities.
- Consider their commitments. Organize meetings to fit young peoples’ schedules whenever possible.
Imagine Canada has developed a helpful guide to engaging youth in your community. The booklet, Attracting and Keeping Youth Volunteers: Creating a Governance Culture that Nurtures and Values Youth, offers excellent strategies for encouraging young people to get involved in associations.
Recreational activities for youth
Providing a variety of recreational activities for young people is an important way to keep them engaged in their community. It helps them learn new skills and develop their interests. Here’s how:
- get youth involved in neighbourhood recreation projects
- encourage them to plan their own projects and activities
- point them to programs and services just for them
The City of Ottawa’s Youth Zone is a great resource for young people. It offers information about:
- arts, culture, sports and other recreational activities for youth
- other youth organizations with programs across the city
- volunteer opportunities for youth
- youth entrepreneurship
- summer jobs
- other youth-related subjects
The following organizations offer information about recreational activities and programs for youth:
- Boys and Girls Clubs of Ottawa
- City of Ottawa Recreation Guide
- YMCA-YWCA National Capital Region
- Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa
For tips and ideas on working with young people and involving them in projects, see The Kit, published by the Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa. It offers a compilation youth views on programs and services for young people. Although it focuses on formal work and programming, the information is a good first-hand view of how young people want to be treated and engaged.
For practical information and strategies to engage young people, take a look at the Halifax Regional Municipality’s Youth Engagement Tool Kit.
Get youth involved with seniors
Youth can learn so much from working with seniors, and can offer much to our elderly citizens in return. Find opportunities to get youth involved with seniors. By volunteering, young people can be rewarded and can count their time towards the 40 hours of volunteer work required before high school graduation.
Plan matchmaking opportunities or connect youth with the local seniors’ centre or retirement residence. Here are some things youth can do with seniors:
- Visit: Given that many of our seniors are lonely because they do not have families or cannot be with their families, regular visits give them something to look forward to and give the youth an opportunity to volunteer in a meaningful way.
- Talk: A young person can bring a breath of fresh air into a senior’s day. Tell them stories, make them laugh. In turn, seniors can talk about their experiences and life’s valuable lessons.
- Do activities: Youth can lead a group of seniors in arts and crafts, group activities, puzzle-making or talking about the day’s news events. They can play board games, play cards, or even show them how to use a computer.
- Entertain them: Many seniors centres and retirement homes bring in regular entertainment. Have local youth organize a talent show, sing songs or tell stories.
- Adopt them: Some communities run “Adopt a Grandfriend” programs. These give youth the opportunity to connect with a senior. Some young people don’t have grandparents, or see them infrequently because of distance. These programs can be very meaningful for them—and the seniors who participate.
Get youth involved with parents of young children
Pre-teens and teenagers sometimes find themselves at odds with parents of young children. After all, they share the same public spaces like parks, streets and sports fields, but how they use those spaces—combined with existing misconceptions—can sometimes bring the two groups into conflict. More often than not, that sense of distrust is caused because the two groups have not taken the time to get to know one another or each other’s needs.
The best way to resolve these issues is to tackle them head-on by giving parents of young children the opportunity to mix with local youth. Here are some suggestions:
- Get them to lead activities: Ask local teens to run a weekend bike riding clinic for young children, arts and crafts workshops, dance classes or music appreciation sessions. It gives them a chance to get to know young children, while contributing in a positive way.
- Ask them to run sports programs: Encourage young people to volunteer as sports coordinators or coaches. They can run children’s soccer programs in the park, teach kids how to skate on your community skating rink in winter, or coordinate weekend gym activities for children at the local school.
- Solicit their help on committees: If you are planning a special event for local families, such as a block party, carnival or family fun day, ask young people to join your committee. They will gain excellent experience and you’ll get to know one another much better.
- Encourage them to take a babysitting course: Babysitting is a great way to bring youth and parents of young children together in a mutually beneficial activity, where young people can learn important skills and make money, while helping out local parents. Local babysitting courses are often offered through the City of Ottawa, schools, school boards, the Red Cross and St. John Ambulance.
- Ask them to tutor other children: If you have local youth with good reading, writing or math skills, put them to good use by engaging them as tutors for elementary age children or even their peers.
The more parents get to know young people, the easier it is for both groups to talk openly when problems arise. Knowing and understanding each other’s point of view will help create open communication and help eliminate frustrations by dealing with problems rather than fuming about them.
Positive ticketing is a valuable relationship-building initiative that has been embraced by many communities throughout North America as a way to reinforce positive behaviours in youth. Research has found that the more “developmental assets” young people have, the more likely they are to contribute positively to society, be healthy and be successful in school. It also means they will be less likely to get involved in criminal activities, drugs, alcohol and violence.
Positive tickets are tools used by members of the community, including police in some cases, to recognize any number of positive behaviours, including:
- wearing bicycle helmets
- doing a good deed
- participating in community activities
- picking up garbage
- observing school crossing rules
- helping out another person
The “tickets” usually come in the form of gift cards or certificates from local businesses—for example, free doughnuts, hamburgers, pizza, movie rentals or other similar incentive. To establish a positive ticketing program in your community, speak to local businesses to request gift certificate donations. Distribute the tickets to business owners, school crossing guards, Neighbourhood Watch leaders and others in the community to distribute to youth when they see positive behaviours.
Grants for great youth ideas
The United Way offers Youth Action grants for young people to turn their ideas into action. Grants of up to $2,500 are awarded to groups of 13-19 year olds for hands-on projects they feel will make their community a better place to live.