Bridging Community and Youth Development: Exploring Theory, Research, and Application

Article excerpt

Internationally there is a growing recognition of the need for theory, research, and applied programming that contributes to our understanding of both community and youth development (Brennan, 2008; McGrath, Brennan, Dolan, & Barnett, 2009). The merger of these two fields of study is important as both can be seen as interdependent and directly shaping each other. Current program and policy debates concerning the bridging youth and community development have pointed to the need to explore the process by which both emerge more systematically. In response, this special issue of Community Development: Journal of the Community Development Society brings together a wide range of theoretical, empirical, and applied research articles that expand our understanding of the interrelation between youth and community development. While exhibiting great diversity in their methodology, theoretical viewpoints, and models for application, the authors of this special issue are united in their focus on the importance of bringing together youth and community development, as well as promoting the symbiotic relationships of each.

The bridging of the two fields of inquiry contribute to a wide range of impacts. Civically engaged youth become empowered to become problem solvers, decision makers, and committed leaders in their community in the future (Barnett & Brennan, 2006). Through the interaction of youth and a wider citizen audience, a more representative voice is provided that reflects the diverse needs and wants of the community. Such interaction sets the stage for the emergence of community (Wilkinson, 1991). Equally important through involvement in their communities, youth gain important protective factors and achieve mastery in social competence, personal efficacy, and sense of purpose, as well as important links to community. Such engagement can set the stage for clearly identified youth roles and long-term participation in the community development process.

This special issue brings together a diverse range of experts including academics, extension faculty, and two UNESCO chairs (Pat Dolan and David Driskell) actively exploring the community-youth development interface. Through their work, a mix of quantitative, qualitative, and applied research is provided. All focus on: (a) expanding the theoretical and applied linkages between community and youth development; and (b) exploring the process by which youth civic engagement can contribute to community development, as well as individual personal development among youth and adults. Both goals are invaluable to on-going research, program, and policy efforts designed to better integrate youth into the community development process, as well as to contribute to the social and psychological development of diverse community residents. It is our hope that this special issue will further contribute to dialogue, research, and applied programming that enhances and better merges the process of community and youth development.


Historically, youth input in local decision making, problem solving, and community action has received only limited attention. It is also often the case that only token gestures have been presented to youth, resulting in limited contributions to long-term community involvement. Similarly, a process for clearly defining youth roles, responsibilities, and ownership has often been lacking in applied programming. However, recent trends suggest that youth are being called upon to play increasingly important roles in the development of their communities (Huber, Frommeyer, Weisenbach, & Sazama, 2003). As non-profits, volunteer groups, and non-governmental organizations take on greater responsibilities in providing for local well-being, the active contribution of youth is vital to the long-term success of development efforts (Barnett & Brennan, 2006). Similarly, as service learning activities become a more standardized component of high school and college programs, youth are better positioned to contribute to sustainable community development efforts. …


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