At Nationwide Children’s, we strive to optimize the health and well-being of every child in our community so they can reach their full potential. One way we are doing that is through the Healthy Neighborhoods, Healthy Families (HNHF) initiative. HNHF is a neighborhood revitalization effort focused on removing barriers and using existing assets to improve the health and well-being of children and families in Columbus’ South Side. Among our greatest assets are the young people who live in the neighborhoods we are hoping to impact.
Youth can and should be contributing members of neighborhood revitalization efforts such as HNHF. They have intimate knowledge of the challenges and opportunities in their neighborhoods, positioning them to make valuable contributions to the creation and implementation of neighborhood revitalization strategies. Guided by the voices of youth, these strategies are often of higher quality and more relevant to the population we are trying to support.
Helping Kids Help Themselves
Community engagement can also benefit youth themselves. Youth community engagement is associated with the development of effective leadership skills, increased resiliency, improved school performance, successful transition to adulthood and decreased risky behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use. These outcomes alone should be enough to inspire us to encourage young people to take a more active role in community engagement. In fact, that may be the most important role we adults can take.
While youth want their voices to be heard, they are more likely to take a leadership role in community engagement when strong support systems are provided. Coaching, mentorship and meaningful dialogue with adults are invaluable to youths’ ability and willingness to truly engage in neighborhood revitalization efforts.
Adults must also be willing to help youth turn the solutions they create into reality, so that everyone experiences the full benefits of community engagement. This requires adults to look at youths as potential helpers as opposed to just recipients of neighborhood revitalization efforts — a perspective that is challenging for some. With experience on our side, we adults too often believe we know what’s best without consulting those who are impacted most.
The real challenge, then, is for parents, mentors and professionals to humble ourselves and come to the realization that we may need as much coaching from youth as they need from us. Only then will we be effective in creating healthy and vibrant communities for Columbus’ children.
Douglas Wolf is Manager of Community Engagement at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. In this role Doug serves as the primary liaison between Nationwide Children’s, neighborhood residents and community partners.
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