By Deni Luna
Northwest Asian Weekly
Youth apathy? Don’t mention it — at least not among the thousands of local youth who are busily engaged in community building. Witness the last election, which brought out the passion of young voters.
In Seattle, youth are choosing to make a difference. Young people are positively contributing to our neighborhoods in creative ways — from organizing door-to-door environmental campaigns to playing chess against police teams.
Recently, youth projects supported by the City of Seattle’s Neighborhood Matching Fund were feted at City Hall. In 2008, the Neighborhood Matching Fund supported 22 youth projects with $370,000 and raised nearly $290,000 in community matches.
The City Hall event featured Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, who pledged to cut youth violence by 50 percent through a multi-departmental youth initiative. He commended the youth for forming partnerships with the government, noting how local projects help troubled young people turn their lives around. “We have to offer hope,” said Nickels. “We have to open doors.”
“Young people are setting out to change their communities — and their own lives. They’re tackling causes from anti-violence to anti-poverty issues,” said Stella Chao, director of the City’s Department of Neighborhoods.
Michael Woo, coordinator with the Construction Clearinghouse, works with teens on green activism. His partially city-supported “Got Green” team recently knocked on 1,500 doors to convince households to adopt cost saving utility conservation measures and environmentally friendly practices.
Tammy Nguyen, a “Got Green” team member, says the project brought relevance and meaning where it was needed. “We live in a dangerous time,” she said. What’s the biggest danger in her eyes? Complacency. “Most people think too much about their own lives, and not globally,” she said, adding, “I was once like that.”
In a recent Seattle Chamber of Commerce event, keynote “Green For All” guru Van Jones noted Got Green as a group that is ahead of others.
Getting youth to think long-range and long-term is a common theme. What works? Neighborhood Matching Fund projects vary from competitive basketball tournaments to literacy campaigns to slick documentaries. Seattle Neighborhood Group spokeswoman Sita Das reports that a Neighborhood Matching Fund-awarded chess club regularly attracts 200 youth for meets with police players in which life-long lessons in critical thinking and anti-violence practices are conveyed. “Chess teaches ‘think before you move.’ It teaches you to look at the whole board, the full picture. It’s very effective,” said Das.
Joining “206Hiphopumentary,” a Matching Fund-awarded teen group creating a documentary, altered one 14-year-old’s life. “I used to have a bad attitude, now I’m calm, laid-back. I’m meeting and greeting people,” he said. With newly acquired social skills, his former feelings of anger and disconnection have left.
One 17-year-old also described her life changing experience. Before, she constantly spent money on “superficial things.” After joining a Matching Fund teen group project that taught financial planning, she amended her ways. She now teaches younger children about the value of planning, financially and otherwise: “If you don’t have a plan, you don’t have a future.” ♦
Deni Luna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.