For the Children: Youth Development Is a Vital Need for Our Country ... and Our Profession. (NRPA Perspectives)

Article excerpt

We need to emphasize efforts to create positive opportunities to develop the potential of all our youth. Although it's important to help "problem youth," this service can't be the entirety of our work. We need to nurture all Americans under the age of 20, even those who will never land in juvenile court, or otherwise be a statistic in the at-risk youth tallies. Our programs should help youth develop the values, skills, competencies and self-confidence necessary to be successful adults.

Most recreation leaders' spirits are motivated by the task and a hope to improve the quality of life for their constituents. Here are some examples of what a youth recreation leader can do to have a permanent, positive influence on youths.

* Never underestimate the enormous values of socialization through recreation programs. Create a sense of community for young people. Assess their interests and needs and create programs for them that they need. Define and connect similarities for those in these communities. Look for ways to expand horizons and share ownership with the group. Provide tokens of ownership--shirts, badges, membership cards, etc. Plan for longevity: It takes time for relationships and activities to become effective.

* Empower young people. Give them leadership roles. Let them make decisions in areas that affect them. Create a structure that allows them to belong and feel needed. Provide role models. Young people need to have opportunities to relate to adults. Mentoring programs can make a measurable difference.

* Teach them about freedom and give them hope for the future. Provide opportunities for discussion and debate. Encourage honesty. Expose them to ideas, not just games.

* Identify resources to help young people learn how to obtain the basic necessities of life.

* Organize job skill, fitness and nutrition programs. …