This new year, commit to creating and strengthening youth-adult partnerships

Youth- adult partnerships benefit youth, adults and communities.

For many people, the changing of the calendar year is a time to reflect on the past and to make plans for making improvements during the “clean slate” of a new year.  According to Michigan State University Extension, many people’s New Year’s resolutions include a focus on improving health, developing knowledge and achieving important milestones.  For those hoping to “make the world a better place” in 2014, one outstanding resolution could be to help foster youth-adult partnerships in their community.

Youth-adult partnerships are a key component of the 4-H Youth Development Program as well as some other youth development and community development focused organizations.  Youth-adult partnerships have been defined by Shepherd Zeldin, Brian Christens and Jane Powers as, “the practice of multiple youth and multiple adults deliberating and acting together in a collective (democratic) fashion over a sustained period of time, through shared work, intended to promote social justice, strengthen an organization, and affirmatively address a community issue.” Citizenship, which includes community engagement, service, learning and leadership, is one of three national 4-H “mission mandates” which is infused throughout the 4-H program experience.  Youth-adult partnerships are key to groups of youth and adults working together to share responsibility for identifying and addressing critical community issues through sustained action and engagement.  This can be done through long term 4-H club programs and through short term special interest programs that engage youth and adults together in projects directed toward community betterment.

Making the creation and strengthening of youth-adult partnerships a New Year’s resolution creates lots of benefits for individuals, organizations and communities.  The publication “Youth-Adult Partnerships in Public Action: Principles, Organizational Culture & Outcomes,” by Zeldin,  highlights the benefits and positive impacts of youth-adult partnerships.  Youth benefit from participation in quality youth-adult partnerships through an increased sense of safety and belonging, increased belief in their abilities to create change, increased sociopolitical and civic knowledge, skills and attitudes, and by increasing their connections to peers and adult networks in their community. Adults involved in youth adult partnerships benefit through the development of increased ability to, “share power and responsibility with youth on an on-going basis,”  and from the opportunity to share their experience, wisdom and knowledge with “a new generation.”  Adults also benefit from learning about the competence and expertise that youth in their community bring to a community project.  Organizations and communities also benefit from the efforts of youth-adult partnerships.  According the Zeldin, Christens and Powers, communities benefit as the development and use of youth-adult partnerships creates new norms that include youth in a community decision-making capacity, adding new perspectives and energy to community projects.  Communities also benefit from the increased network of community partners that are brought together within youth-adult  partnerships, and as a result of the efforts of members of youth-adult partnerships working to address issues in communities, that might not otherwise happen.  Communities also benefit from learning how to better serve the youngest members of the community, which helps to build communities that young people are invested in and want to stay as they grow into adults. 

With all these benefits and opportunities, committing to starting and sustaining youth-adult partnerships might be the New Year’s resolution that results in the biggest impact!

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