Empowered youth: A joy to behold


For The Beachcomber

A few years ago I had a profound encounter with an empowered youth. It happened at a Youth/Adult Dialogue (YAD). This person walked right up to me as we began a get-to-know-each-other exercise in the first part of the program. I was surprised by the boldness. This young person looked me right in the eye, spoke and then listened. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but it was totally honest and personal.

A lot of us middle-aged people expect to be invisible to youth. We can see the orbits of younger and older circles avoiding contact in public, out of respect or otherwise. It doesn’t work that way at a YAD. Everyone there finds a way to reach across the gap.

As a parent, I think it’s great to see my own children seek out challenges as they mature. Still, it’s tough to let go and be sure that enough will be well without your help. It does take a village.

So what exactly is youth empowerment? I found a useful, official-sounding definition online from Wikipedia:

“Youth empowerment is an attitudinal, structural and cultural process whereby young people gain the ability, authority and agency to make decisions and implement change in their own lives and the lives of other people, including youth and adults.”

So what other kinds of youth em-powerment have we got going on the Island? According to the above definition, it sounds like it’s up to the youth who have the “ability, authority and agency.” However, the rest of us do come in at the “attitudinal, structural and cultural process.” To see this in action, go to www.vashonyouthcouncil.org and www.doitvashon.org.

Youth empowerment is personal. It involves the community’s support and respect. It will inevitably change the world. Can we measure it as it happens in our own neighborhood? Hmm… How many young people do I know who are an advocate for self? An advocate for family or friends? An active member of the community? An active member of the world? A factor in a creative project? A factor in a cause or movement?

Many! If you would like to meet some of them, attend the next Youth/Adult Dialogue on Feb. 3. Development of Island Teens (DOIT) has been co-sponsoring this event, in partnership with the Vashon Island Prevention and Intervention Team and the Vashon Youth Council, since the dialogue’s inception in early 2004. This year is going to be a fantastic one for the youth council, and we are lucky to have their members participating in force.

Adults play a vital role in this process, and indeed, it’s a role as important as supporting youth in their academics or sports. Angela Huebner, a professor who studies the factors that put adolescents at risk or helps to protect them, put it this way:

“‘Empowering teens’ refers to a process through which adults begin to share responsibility and power with young people. It is the same idea as teaching young people the rules of the game. Youth development professionals are helping young people develop non-academic competencies that will help them to participate in the game of life.”

As an active member of a church community on the Island, I view the concept of youth empowerment as “ministry” or as “outreach.” Either one is an element of spiritual fellowship in its own institutional way. Outreach, by any other name, is a practice of giving. To be able to give is a gift itself. Sustained giving is a practice of faith.

I hope we’ll stay tuned in to our young people as the layers of our economy continue to stir our reality in 2009. Join me in reaching out to give what we’ve got, through funding, time and talent. Take an opportunity to get looked in the eye by an empowered youth.

­— Crystal Culp, a mother/stepmother of five, is president of the DOIT board.

The next Youth/Adult Dialogue runs from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 3, at the VYFS Playspace, on the corner of Vashon Highway and S.W. Gorsuch Road. It begins with a light dinner; bring a plate and utensil.

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