With the right opportunities, tools and support, commentator Ellen London says even our most vulnerable youngsters can enjoy successful futures.
London is the new president and CEO of the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation.
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Ten years ago, when I began working at the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation, I met a young man named Maurice Kie, who lived in a tough public housing project in Northeast D.C. He and half a dozen other boys became friends with an artist named Larry Quick and a woman named Mary Brown, who became like family and worked with them after school and on weekends.
The boys talked about their lives and collectively created paintings that depicted some of the challenges of growing up in urban America.
During my years at the Trust, I’ve seen first-hand the power such programs have in young people’s lives.
Today, Life Pieces to Masterpieces is an outstanding after-school program offering mentoring, enrichment and other opportunities to more than 100 boys throughout D.C. and in Prince George’s County. With an impressive history in Deanwood and Marshall Heights community, Life Pieces is helping young men in these neighborhoods become gentlemen, scholars, artists and athletes.
Well, he attends the University of the District of Columbia as an Education and Psychology major; and now serves as a program coordinator working with the younger kids, moving into a senior leadership position at the program.
I’ve seen many other boys, and girls, like Maurice benefit from after-school and summer programs that subscribe to an approach we call positive youth development.
That approach means equipping young people with the tools they need to make better decisions as they navigate life.
The good news is that the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation gives about $17 million in grants each year to community-based organizations to do just that for thousands of young people in our city’s most challenged neighborhoods.
In those after-school and summer programs, youth participation is a key ingredient. Young people have a voice. They make choices, contribute and share responsibility.
We believe this strategy helps young people reach their full potential. And it fosters creativity and innovation at community-based organizations.
Other agencies that serve the District’s young people also use this youth development approach. Among them are the city’s departments of Parks and Recreation, Employment Services and Youth Rehabilitative Services. They too have found this approach, a shift in thinking, has helped young people improve their health and well-being.
Studies show youth in these and similar programs have better interpersonal skills, self-control and problem solving ability. They are also less likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use and violence.
We have experienced what numerous studies have shown: that young people need and want programs that increase their own self-worth and sense of community and belonging. They want opportunities to be exposed to new experiences.
Maurice Kie once described his after-school program this way: "For the kids in our neighborhood, it provides opportunities. The things your parents aren’t necessarily able to do for you. It can brighten your horizons. It’s exposure. You get to express yourself."
Our city is on the cutting edge of this youth development work, and it’s something we should all support and be proud of.
I’m Ellen London