January 23, 2019

Connecting the Community

By Angel Gomez |

In our search for inclusion, where we tend to focus on social media and technology during times of solitude, it seems the journey we take when looking for a sense of community is guided through a screen in our hands. Whether it is our friend list on Facebook, followers on Instagram, or the private group that is dedicated to “The Office,” most humans can relate to wanting to be a part of a collective whole that relates to their common interests and necessities. But what about in our daily interactions? Do we consider our workplace to be a “community” that we are a part of? Do we allow the people we interact with to be a part of our “community?” Or, is the true form of “community” one that is created out of necessity? The same question can go for the youth in our society. As they venture off in their life journey, do youth feel connected to their school as a community although it is vital and necessary for them to attend? Is it possible for youth to create a stronger connection to community when they are able to make a choice based on their interests?

Having been in the out-of-school time field for the past 7 years, my experience has shown me that youth are much more inclined to be a part of a community when they choose to include themselves. We are never really involved in anything until we make an intentional effort to join that certain community. Youth can grow up in the same neighborhood for most of their adolescent life, but until they venture into their neighborhood, or are invited to be a part of their neighborhood, there isn’t much ownership from the youth taking place within those communities. I saw it a lot with youth that had ties to gangs within the neighborhood. These young kids were being brought in and recruited by the older individuals that had grown up in the neighborhood and made a community for themselves; although it was a negative one, it was a community nonetheless. I saw myself on the opposite side of this spectrum. When I was running afterschool programs out of the Midvale Boys & Girls Club, my goal was to make the Club seem like it was the place to be all of the time. I wanted young people to see what the Club meant to me and my intention was that hopefully, they would feel the same way about it. After all, those kids were the ones who grew up in that neighborhood. I was just an individual that was able to relate to them at a level that most adults weren’t willing to.

The one thing that is a constant in that neighborhood is the physical building of the Midvale Boys & Girls Club. Individuals come and go, but it’s the power that comes from what the building or the idea of it represents. As stakeholders in our community with positions of power, we need to think of the intentional impact that our words and actions and spaces have across the individuals that make up the rest of our community. In this scenario, the Midvale Boys & Girls Club building can have the same amount of impact as the elementary school, the recreation center, the library, the community clinic, etc.. The influence is there; what we need now is ownership of the spaces that are provided to us and for the people that staff these community staples to be willing and committed to guiding the future generation.

It’s time for the young people we interact with to understand that there is a bigger picture that cares about what happens in the place that they call home. It’s time that we put more power into the hands of our young people and listen to what they have to say. Find the place that attracts youth in your community and encourage them to take ownership of it.  As movers and shakers of this world, we need to take control of that power and share it with those who need it. Let’s make this world ours and make sure our kids know it.