– By Khiaw Srihanouvong –
Youth are our future and will one day be the decision-makers in our communities. For youth today, the world looks a lot different than it did for those of us who are currently the decision-makers in communities. That can make it difficult to connect with kids and get them involved.
When I was growing up, we didn’t have cell phones. During the summers, the city provided park staff to host activities for the local kids every day, except on weekends. They would give tennis and swimming lessons. If we were to go somewhere like the zoo, they give us permission slips to have our parents sign and return. At the end of the summer, all the parks in the city would hold a tennis tournament and all my cousins would take the first-place trophies. I received a participation ribbon, but it was fun. These activities got us involved in the community and connected with each other.
Today’s youth connect a little differently. They are often consumed with social media, which can sometimes lead to dangerous situations with strangers when there isn’t enough parental oversite.
I have spoken with several parents, and they tell me that they try to limit the time their child spends online. So social media allows youth to connect with each other whenever and wherever, but how can they connect with our community?
I have found that when youth do get involved in the community, it can be very impactful for them and the community. Jessica is a young lady that has helped me with previous projects while she was still in high school. I was involved with a research project that wanted to find out about the resilience of the Asian community in the Gulf Coast region. It was a three-year project and it asked for the youth’s involvement too. Jessica is the daughter of a good friend of mine, and I asked her if she would like to help out. She accepted without hesitation. Jessica was like the leader of the pack; whenever we needed to get together with the youth council, she would send out the invitation and they would all come. It’s very helpful to identify youth who are trusted and respected by their peers because they can encourage their friends to get involved as well.
Getting to know her has been a blessing. She has many ideas that come from a different youthful perspective and is connected to resources that I would have a hard time accessing.
Getting involved in the community was so impactful for Jessica. I wanted to know how other communities can engage with youth in similarly impactful ways, so I chatted with Jessica about some of her experiences.
Some of the impactful ways the adults got Jessica and her friends to get involved with the community was when they took her and her friends on field trips. They took her and her friends to a nearby environmental center, and took a boat out in the middle of the ocean to talk about marine life and how humans have impacted that body of life. These trips encouraged them to see and learn about their community. They showed the good side of their community and what the community has to offer.
When I asked Jessica about what was missing in her engagement with the community, she said she wanted to see the side of her community that needs the most attention. The poor, those without homes, and people that need healthcare. Typically, the school showed Jessica and her friends the fun side of the community. But they wanted to help the part of the community that needs help and resources.
After Jessica graduated from high school and transitioned to an adult community member, she realized that there are not a lot of events being organized to help the community members. She would like to see better communication between the youth and adults because they both are working on the same cause. Communication starts at home. It’s okay to start by simply asking each other how one’s day went.
In our community, older Asian couples depend on the youth for translation and the understanding of the world around them. But some of the older generations have no one to take them to doctor’s visits or help them understand what their medical issues are and what actions they need to do to help. What gets Jessica excited about being involved with the community is when she helps someone and gets to see their face light up. She loves knowing that she helped someone that was having difficulties, such as language barriers, understand how to apply for assistance.
Youth are the future of our communities, and many of them would be interested in helping if they knew how much impact they could have. We must show them the way.