page contents Youth engagement in Grande Prairie by Dylan Bressey, City Council candidate. Election 2017. page contents

Engaging Our Youth

We need to make Grande Prairie a community where teenagers can become and stay engaged. How do we do this?

THE SHORT VERSION

Having a supportive and attractive community is important for our young people- they deserve a great community to grow up in. It is also important for our sustainability. For long term community health, we need to invest in our next generation of workers, business owners, volunteers, parents, and civic leaders. One of the best ways we can care for our youth is by giving them opportunities for engagement. I want to see this happen by involving them in City decisions, gathering accurate information about what is going on in their world, supporting the great youth organisations we have, and by giving young people opportunities to get involved in sport, recreation, and cultural activities. However, engagement is also about leadership. We need leaders who are optimistic about the future, who earn the right to lead young people, and who invite youth into the democratic process.

THE LONG VERSION

Young People Need Help

Thanks to my career, I get to spend a lot of my time around teenagers. They are a big reason that I am running. I see many of their needs, and I want to help them grow into healthy adults who contribute to our community.

Overall, I think Grande Prairie is a great place to be a teenager. We are a young city overall. There is plenty of opportunity for young people to work, learn, and play. Most parents, teachers, coaches, and others in the community genuinely care about kids. We also have talented and dedicated professionals running many different youth services. This environment creates lots of well-adjusted teens. We need to make sure that these healthy kids get what it takes to become great contributors to their work places, families, and community.

At the same time, there are a lot of kids that are hurting in Grande Prairie. I have personally witnessed many heartbreaking stories. Some teens come from broken families or have parents that are overwhelmed with life. Some have made poor choices, suffered tragedy, or developed other risk factors. Some just haven’t connected with the opportunities available to them in our community. Whatever their problems, we need to give hurting kids chances to find positive community and wholeness.

Our young people need and deserve community resources behind them.

 

We Need Young People

We also need to do a great job with young people because our community’s future depends on them.

In his book 13 Ways to Kill a Community, Doug Griffiths discusses teenagers. I love what he says:

 “You shouldn’t try to ‘keep’ your youth. The nature of youth is to explore, to try new things, to seek new adventures. The more they experience of life, or other cultures, or other ways of thinking and doing things, the more creative, more understanding, more thoughtful, and better-rounded they will be. This means they will be better community leaders, better business leaders, better social leaders replete with broader ideas and concepts they can exercise within your community to help it to grow…

“When it comes to youth, the future of your community is not about finding a way to keep them from leaving. The future of your community is dependent on providing all of them with a reason to want to come home when the adventure is over.”

When I have a high school grad tell me they are leaving Grande Prairie for an exciting university program, to experience life in a big city they adore, to go poke around other countries, or just to blaze an adult trail on their own I get excited. But when I hear them say “I just have to get out of GP,” that makes me sad for them and concerned for our city.

I don’t believe in “holding onto” our youth. I don’t want us working towards keeping them in Grande Prairie for their entire lives. However, I do believe in building a community which is attractive to them. Living in Grande Prairie should be one of several exciting opportunities young people consider. We need to be a city where teenagers can picture themselves pursuing a career, living adult lives, and raising families of their own.

 

Engaging Young People

Supporting healthy youth and helping hurting youth is incredibly complex. Creating an attractive community for young people also involves many factors. Figuring out how to make a better city for our teens will take intentional conversation with our community.

Young people need to be involved in this conversation. Youth will have some of the best perspectives on how to care for themselves and for their peers. We need to be seeking out the thoughts and perspectives of young people if we hope to build a supportive and attractive community for them.

Youth engagement doesn’t just help adults make great decisions. Engagement is also great for youth in and of itself. For healthy kids, being engaged in our community will help them develop leadership, critical thinking, communication, and organizational skills. For hurting kids, we can help them develop a sense of inherent value by listening to them and taking their ideas seriously.

I want to see the City have a focus on youth engagement.

 

Policies of Engagement

Following are some general policies I support to get and keep youth engaged in our city:

  • Involving Youth in Government: Young people need to have a formal say in how our city is run. We have made a good start at this with the Youth Council. I want to see it continue to receive resources and attendance from Councilors. However, I would also like us to explore opportunities to involve youth members on other formal committees (the Arts Development Committee, Community Enhancement Advisory Committee, and Library Board are possibilities). This might require having someone on the committee willing to recruit and mentor a youth member; we need to be intentional in engaging young people. Note: I know we have youth advisory boards. But I would love to see some actual decision making shared with youth--just listening to them is not enough.
  • Advocating for GPRC's Polytechnic Status: A lot of young people are forced to leave Grande Prairie to receive an education. If the provincial government allowed GPRC to grant degrees, it would encourage young people to stay in our region. It would also be a big positive for older people wishing to make a career change and needing education to do so. Making GPRC into a polytechnic needs to be an advocacy priority for Council.
  • Gathering Information: As a front line youth worker, I have ideas about what our kids need to thrive in this community. But I also know that us service providers are lacking information--we are working on anecdotal experiences to create and target programs. I would like to see the City invest resources into getting more statistical information about the behaviours, risk factors, and resiliency mechanisms of our young people. This information will help us target programs and initiatives which will build our youth.
  • Continued Investment in Sporting, Recreational, and Cultural Opportunities.  These opportunities give young people positive fun, safe adventure, and skill development. More importantly, they give them a place to build healthy friendships with their peers and any adults involved. Whether they are involved as participants or volunteers, sport, recreation, and cultural events give people of all ages a great way to engage with their community.
  • Partnering with Existing Organisations. We have great organisations working with young people in Grande Prairie. Our many minor sports leagues are a great example. Young Life, Breakfast Club, Cadets, church youth groups, and The Cool Aid Society are other examples. Many of these groups are not just involving youth as participants, but also engaging them as volunteers and leaders. I want to see the City continue to support these excellent organisations. Examples of support may include targeted grants, subsidized use of City space, information sharing, lending City staff expertise, or helping get the word out about youth programs.
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What I Can Offer

Programs and wise policies are important for our youth. However, it also takes great leadership from our community, business, and civic leaders to engage youth. I have shown this type of leadership to young people in our community. If elected, I plan to use my position to work even harder at getting and keeping youth engaged. Following are some aspects of engaging leadership which I am careful to cultivate:

  • Earning the Right. We cannot simply create opportunities for engagement and hope youth take advantage. We need to earn the right to ask them to give their time and energy to our community. In my work with Young Life, we spend a lot of time going to where teenagers are by volunteering in schools, cheering them on at games or plays, hanging out in the Eastlink Centre, etc... We also spend a lot more time listening to their ideas, hopes, dreams, experiences, and funny stories than sharing our own. Civic leaders need to do the same. They need to intentionally be around and introduce themselves to young people, and then do a great job of listening to their perspectives and ideas.
  • Optimistic Leadership. Part of being human is we like to gripe. And kids listen. We need to be careful with this. If the messages kids hear about Grande Prairie are generally negative, they will sense that there is no good future here. Leaders need to help shape a positive narrative for our community. Sure, there are problems in Grande Prairie but we need to be realistic and open about them; on the whole, Grande Prairie is a great place to live. I love sharing the parts I love about GP and my hopes for making it even better. Our leaders need to do a great job of helping teenagers see a compelling and hopeful future in Grande Prairie.
  • Educational and Compelling Voice. In the 2015 Vital Signs report, only 24% of youth reported being satisfied with local decision-making. 42% said they wanted more say, 31% said they wished elections and politics were made more relevant to them, and 26% said they wanted better access to information on government. We clearly need to do a better job at communicating with young people and giving them a say. This is what I have spent my career learning to do. If elected, I look forward to getting to spend time and energy informing youth about what Council is up to, and giving them reason to become engaged.

 

What are Your Thoughts?

I’d love to hear from you. How are we doing at engaging our youth? How could we get better? Let me know. Tag me on Facebook. Give me a call. Or come join the conversation at www.gpRoundTable.ca

-Dylan

SOURCES

2015 Vital Signs Report by the Community Foundation of Northwestern Alberta: https://www.buildingtomorrowtoday.com/images/vital-signs/2015/2015-vitalsigns-singlepages-FINAL-web.pdf


I'd love to hear your thoughts. You can contact me by clicking here. I'd also encourage you to share your ideas with others. You can do that by joining a GP Round Table discussion online or in person. Details are here.

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