Bradenton/Manatee County, Florida

Bradenton, a four time 100 Best winner, embodies the idea of community for young people because residents, schools, non-profits, and businesses work together to make Manatee County a pleasant place to live.  Neighboring and volunteerism are embraced, and young people are presented with numerous opportunities, which enable them to be active in the community. There is a strong sense of unity and an emphasis on intergenerational partnerships. Another reason Bradenton is a great place to live is due to youth empowerment. Although youth are outnumbered by senior citizens, roughly 12,000 active youth participate in service projects each year contributing in excess of 1.6 million hours of service annually.

In Manatee County, youth have the opportunity to serve as leaders and decision-makers in the community. Youth can sit on nonprofit boards, participate in advisory committees, and manage councils. Youth also have access to specific services such as community groups/foundations, volunteer programs, and special initiatives. Some of the most common places where youth lend their voice are The ManaTEEN Club, Manatee County Substance Abuse Youth Council, Healthy Teens Coalition, Helping Other Lead, Learn, and Achieve (H.O.L.L.A.), and after -school programs.

Each of these groups promotes youth leadership and civic engagement. Youth advocates decide what issues they are passionate about and organize efforts to combat problems. Councils and committees are youth-driven and supported by the entire community. One unique way in which youth act as policy-makers is Teen Court. Youth serve as jurors or attorneys to decide a fair sentence for other youth who are guilty of committing minor crimes. Another example is Bay Guardians. This is a program where youth in elementary and middle school identify environmental problems and develop an action plan to resolve the issue.

Bradenton is working to resolve its transportation problems by establishing safe places at numerous sites and locations in the community. Most schools in Manatee County have after-school programs for youth where they can complete homework, participate in sports and plan service projects. The ManaTEEN Club helps make the community a safer place for youth, too. Youth can address issues around the community or in their own neighborhood. The volunteer opportunities posted for ManaTEENs take place in numerous locations from natural preserves to schools to neighborhood parks.

To solve the community’s funding and transportation dilemma, the community brings the service to the youth. Schools incorporate community service in their lesson plans, after-school programs help youth serve in local neighborhoods, and community non-profits and organizations collaborate to create service projects in all of the local zip codes. The ManaTEEN Club plays a huge role in the process of teaching youth to become active citizens in the community. Youth are informed about service opportunities that take places various days and times throughout the week and on weekends. The community is extremely flexible and offers a myriad of community service options for youth as young as five.