Understanding Youth

Mike Binder, Class 27
Marketing and Communications Manager, Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce

The Class 27 Blog: This is a blog series about the experience and impact of Scottsdale Leadership’s core program. The program informs, inspires and empowers leaders to champion and strengthen the interests of the community. Scottsdale Leadership is an Arizona Leadership Program.

Some of us are closer to the realities of youth than others. Many of my classmates are mere years away from actually being young, so the memories of youth’s struggles remain fresh. I, more often than not, see youth through the eyes of my own children, the youngest being 16. I am incredibly fortunate that the experiences of youth I see most often, through my daughter, are positive ones. The daily realities for many young people however, are much more daunting. That’s why Youth Issues Day was such an eye-opener for me, and for Class XXVII.

We began our day at General Dynamics, where New Directions Institute for Infant Brain Development expanded the definition of “youth”. Entering this day, when I thought of Youth Services, I had a mental image of children from perhaps 5 years of age on up to twenty, lumping those younger into a separate category. Ms. Phillips showed us that infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers benefit from specific interactions and tools that help to develop a healthy brain and enter school ready to learn. There can be no understating the benefits these interactions give children as they begin their journey toward “youth”.

Teen Lifeline then outlined one of the most difficult realities of youth, Teen Suicide. When asked if anyone in the class had been affected by suicide, the overwhelming number of hands in the air was both shocking and heart wrenching. The incredible work they do is made all the more effective by staffing the facility with teens, many of whom have also been touched by this kind of tragedy. We discussed the statistics (Each year, nearly 26,400 teens in Arizona attempt suicide; and since 1985, Arizona has ranked in the top 10 states for teens who completed suicide.), risk factors (Divorce, relationships, pressure to succeed), and signs and symptoms (Ominous statements, depression, changes in behavior).  If you can find a silver lining in this very dark subject, it’s the strong success of the program and their volunteers, who donate more than 7,000 hours annually to assist those in need.

Our final area of study for the morning was that of Youth Mentoring. We met two groups doing incredible work: New Pathways for Youth (formerly Greater Phoenix Youth at Risk) as well as Big Brothers Big Sisters. Both groups outlined the very real need for role models in the lives of youths who typically come from a single parent household.

The organizatinos showed a video that demonstrated not only how much a mentoring relationship can do, but how it can also turn into a lifelong friendship. This was reinforced by class 27’s own Jason Ganawardena, who described the value he found in his experience with Big Brothers, Big Sisters. The two biggest themes from these guests were the overwhelming need for mentors (mentees can wait more than 2 years to get paired up), and the incredible rewards that the mentor receives in these relationships.

We enjoyed lunch with many of our next guests, Teen Peer Counselors from Workshops for Youth and Families. The teens at our table were bright, engaging, and eager to share what they do. After lunch, Frances Mills-Yerger, Ph.D., Class 16, the Program Director & Founder of Workshops for Youth and Families, outlined their mission to foster personal leadership and resiliency in youth and families. Their target is teens that seem perfectly healthy on the outside, but may be struggling with personal issues, friends and family on the inside. These kids are bombarded with mixed messages from parents, peers and the media; and the Workshops provide tools to expand social, emotional and life skills; negotiate new demands; and foster a healthy transition through the adolescent years.

To end the day, we took a tour of the Paiute Neighborhood Center, a former Scottsdale elementary school that now provides a safe and diverse environment where people from the adjacent neighborhoods can come together for social, recreational, cultural and educational programs and services. While we were there, the Police Department was showing their equipment, dogs and officers to a rapt crowd of local kids. The families of this neighborhood are mostly lower income, and are in need of the incredible services offered to them at Paiute including: Early Childhood (Bi-Lingual education, early childhood development, car seat education); After-School Programs (Sports, arts & crafts, math & science, tutoring and computers for ages 6-11); Teen Center (Homework help/tutoring, teen council, open recreational activities); Senior Center (Movies, excursions, exercise classes, potlucks, recreational activities); and Social Services (Translations services, notary, food boxes, clothing bank, information & referral). This facility, and the fine staff and volunteers who make it run, are in incredible asset to the city and to this neighborhood

My takeaway for this day was that issues for youth are much more complicated today than they were just a few years ago. It was eye-opening to remove the shackles of my narrow focus and business day, and see this need in our community. Thank goodness there are people and organizations dedicated to being there for those in need, to educate them, support them, and to catch them if they fall.

Youth Services Day was recognition of the challenges of youth, and a joyful affirmation of the spirit of the young.

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1 Comment

Filed under Class, Community, Leadership

One response to “Understanding Youth

  1. Jason Gunawardena

    Thanks for the plug Mike. I am just trying to get my peers to volunteer as mentors to help the youth out. I am glad your experience with your daughter is positive. I also agree with you that the majority of youth see a more daunting reality. I can’t imagine a worst time in the nation’s history to be a juvenile. I look at the struggles that my, much younger to me, brother and his friends have in dealing with finances and worrying about their future careers despite having smart phones and technology. I remember it being so easy to find a job at 16. Why do you think it’s much harder today than it was before?

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