Youth Summit Highlights Young People’s Community Involvement

On March 21 (2015),  24 adults and 19 students from several schools in the area convened at the Woodstock Inn for the second annual Youth Summit. Sustainable Woodstock was represented by staff member Zach Ralph, board member Al Alessi and myself. We listened as the youths spoke about their concerns in their schools, local communities, and in the larger world, and now we’re going to look for ways to support them in their efforts to address those concerns.

Zach commented that the summit “focused on what young people had to say. It wasn’t just adults lecturing young people the whole time and trying to get them a message; it was mostly asking students questions and listening to their responses, and not surprisingly they had a lot of great insightful things to say.”

I co-facilitated a discussion group on environmental issues with Chloe Powell, Barnard’s energetic local food and art promoter. Three students from Woodstock Union Middle School, a senior at WUHS, and a Sharon Academy freshman from Hartland considered several topics before choosing local transportation as an issue they want to address. They decided to explore the possibility of creating bike paths and even setting up a bicycle rental system in the Woodstock area.

These young people are prepared to work diligently to make this idea a reality. They will contact appropriate organizations and individuals who might be in a position to support the project. (They began with just-elected village trustee Ward Goodenough, who dropped in on the Youth Summit and gave them his contact information to discuss the project further.) They will add their voice and energy to others in the community who want to promote biking as an environmentally friendly form of local transportation.

Alessi, who already commutes regularly by bicycle, says “It was exciting to see an idea like establishing bike paths coming up from the generation that will likely see such a mission to completion.” He adds, “The importance of intergenerational dialogue is that the torches of great ideas and visions are not simply passed on from some wise older generation; they are rather morphed into new ideas and visions wholly owned and operated by people decades from now.”

Other action groups took on different issues, including finding ways to empower youth through peer led trainings and networking youth leaders, creating a more inclusive environment in the school community, and setting up a program for promoting community-based opportunities and activities for youths during out of school time.

“I was most impressed by the young people who were at the event,” said Zach. “They had a passion and a desire to learn and be successful, even those who were only in middle school.”

The gathering was organized by three WUHS seniors, Kia Amirkiaee, Emma McLiverty, and Holli Olson, along with Ottauquechee Community Partnership staff people Jackie Fischer and Biz Alessi. They are hoping that an organization emerging from their efforts, the Vermont Youth Action Network, will continue to promote dialogue between young people and adults throughout the coming year. Be ready to respond to these youths who want to work with you for a better community!

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