Words of Wisdom

There are great community leaders in cities and towns across the country. Do you know one in your neighborhood? This special Words of Wisdom comes from three Grad Nation Community leaders. We asked them to reflect on why community engagement is important and how youth can be involved.

Kinston, NC

Theresa Williams Bethea
Kinston Promise Neighborhood Coordinator

Community Engagement is important because it provides the opportunity to have a say in the decision-making process in our community.  Inviting community engagement and especially incorporating youth voices provides an opportunity for leaders to listen – but more importantly – it helps to build trust within a community.  I am a firm believer that those closest to the problems within our community can offer up suggestions for long-lasting improvements.  In Kinston Promise Neighborhood, our ongoing youth involvement efforts has included meetings with community leaders and elected officials; supporting and serving the homeless; improving literacy for low-income youth through book donations; participating in campus beautification and community clean-ups; youth garden projects and more.

We strive for a society where youth are respected as powerful leaders and active community members.  Young people should care about community engagement because it provides youth an opportunity to see firsthand the needs within their community.  It also provides them with an opportunity to help find solutions to those issues that impact their lives.  Incorporating youth voice empowers young leaders with the tools to positively change the world around them by sharing ideas, community projects, and developing leadership skills. Youth have the opportunity to work alongside adult allies in addressing some of the most pressing issues in our community.  Youth engagement provides opportunities to develop leadership skills such as teambuilding; time management; conflict resolution; public speaking and more.

Tucson, AZ (Pima County)

Amanda Kucich, MPA
Senior Director of Youth Development, United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona

To affect long term change community engagement is essential. Without it, the strategies and interventions put in place are nothing more than top down approaches that never generate buy-in and collective leadership necessary for sustainability. If Pima County had increased youth involvement in decision-making at all levels (i.e. government, school district operation and program service implementation) our community would be a more vibrant place to live, work and play. Social networks are an individual’s and a community’s greatest asset and young people are socially networked at a level that can’t even be compared to adults. If we were better able to engage them in changing our communities more resources and better ideas would be generated. From a youth perspective, they stand to gain deeper, more supportive relationships with other adult leaders in the community who have a vested interest in their success. I don’t think there’s anything more valuable to youth than that.

Portland, OR

Tony Hopson
President and CEO, Self Enhancement, Inc.

Community engagement is the foundation from which strong communities come from. Young people have always represented innovation and change, as well as the risk and the hope that’s necessary to pave new paths of growth and prosperity.  Community engagement represents a tremendous opportunity for our young people to help shape their own future and the future of their peers. There is no greater gain or satisfaction than to know that your input, presence or sacrifice helped to move mankind forward for the good of all.

  • Since community engagement is so important, look for a new feature starting next month called Community Comment for a youth voice from our Grad Nation Communities.