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Youth Councils

The Children's Aid Society, New York City, NY
Capital: Polity, Personal

Youth Councils for afterschool programs, sponsored by The Children's Aid Society in New York City, are designed to foster youth leadership skills and give youth a voice in their community. Elected by their peers from each afterschool program, members of each Youth Council reflect the demographics of the majority of the youth served by The Children's Aid Society, typically from low socioeconomic backgrounds and largely from African-American and Latino populations. Youth Council members provide input and feedback regarding the activities in their afterschool program, organize social events for the afterschool program, and develop and participate in community service and youth advocacy projects.

Youth Council members run meetings and take the lead on all activities while adult staff help facilitate the group. Projects are chosen by the Youth Council and are centered on diverse community issues. A Youth Council at an elementary school initiated a letter-writing campaign to fight against litter in their neighborhood. The members visited the offices of local politicians and organized a community march. Several Youth Councils located in the Bronx sites came together to do something about the lack of mental health services for teens in their community, an issue they identified as being key for the future of the Bronx. They organized and facilitated a community conference on the topic, which included young people, adult community members, local politicians, and business leaders. The youth facilitated group discussions on the issues and offered their own ideas for what could be done to improve the situation.

The projects initiated by the Youth Councils build leadership capacity in the participants by helping them become adept at working with others, taking initiative, making decisions, planning, organizing, and public speaking. Because the program runs all year long and students can participate in both elementary (fourth and fifth grades) and middle (sixth through eighth grade) school, youth have the opportunity to participate over time and at various developmental levels.

Sarah Jonas from The Children's Aid Society explains how the program helps youth across a variety of developmental domains, including cognitive, social, emotional, and moral: "Youth are stimulated intellectually, must learn to work together, experience pride in their own sense of efficacy, and are able to tap into their moral development through the community service and advocacy projects."

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