YouthBuild AmeriCorps Brings Civic Reflection to Opportunity Youth

We find that creating a service culture can be as simple as asking a young person "What do you think?"

May 06 2015
Youthbuild training

YouthBuild USA is a national non-profit with sites around the country where low-income young people, ages 16 to 24, work full-time for 6 to 24 months toward their GEDs or high school diplomas, while also learning job skills by building affordable housing in their communities.

Staff members from five YouthBuild Americorps programs attended a civic reflection facilitation training in Chicago in 2012. Their goal was to launch a pilot program to explore how civic reflection might be integrated into work with YouthBuild’s Opportunity Youth population. This pilot group facilitated reflection discussions twice a month with their members, the facilitators meeting monthly to share resources and discuss challenges and successes.

Since then, YouthBuild has partnered with the Center for Civic Reflection, and with CCR associate and trainer Thomas Toney, to train more than a fourth of the 80 YouthBuild AmeriCorps programs across the country in the practice of civic reflection. This summer, members from an additional ten programs will be instructed in this method of broadening the context and deepening the meaning of the service they provide to their communities. After being introduced to the practice of civic reflection, Opportunity Youth are invited to facilitate their own discussions with guidance from the trained facilitators, using texts of their own choosing if they wish.

 Matt Clerico, Senior AmeriCorps Portfolio Manager at YouthBuild USA, had this to say about the impact of civic reflection at YouthBuild:

Over the past three years, local programs have identified a number of objects that speak directly to our young people and developed discussions around them. We have found each year that once a group gets comfortable, our members begin to want to get involved as facilitators. Providing motivated participants with the planning materials and working with them to set up their own sessions really proved to be an effective practice in expanding their skill sets.  Once a few members had facilitated, we found that buy-in by the other (maybe even more socially reluctant) students was even greater.

Many of our young people are coming in to programs with a negative understanding of service as something court-ordered, a penalty for doing something wrong. YouthBuild AmeriCorps can be their first exposure to the idea of service as a voluntary way to make change in the community. Many have been defined by society as service recipients or victims. Civic reflection has been a powerful introductory tool for them to start seeing themselves as service providers, an empowering transformation indeed.  We find that creating a service culture and sparking a member’s enthusiasm can be as simple asking a young person “What do you think?”

You may be the first one in their life to ever bother asking. 

YouthBuild has been in the national news this week. In a column published in last Sunday’s New York Times, UC Berkeley professor David L. Kirp cites YouthBuild USA as a program that gives low-income high school dropouts practical and moral support for continuing their educations and building successful futures. It does so by offering these youth, in the words of founder Dorothy Stoneman, “a community that helps them find their purpose.” And in an article in the Boston Globe, city leaders cite YouthBuild Boston as a release valve for racial and economic tensions of the kind that have erupted in Baltimore.

At CCR we are proud to partner with YouthBuild USA and AmeriCorps, and we hope that civic reflection will support more and more Opportunity Youth in discerning their purpose and building community.

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