What it means to include youth in a plan for the future

By Erin Bernhard
Volunteer Coordinator and AmeriCorps VISTA

Since The Grand Vision was first realized, it has been identified as a 50-year plan for the future of land use, transportation, economic development, and environmental stewardship. This vision is a long term one, voted on and planned by the citizens of the six-county northwest Michigan region.
But those citizens—the ones who voted five years ago and are part of the process now—aren’t necessarily the ones who will benefit from the vision in the long-term. The majority of adult citizens who were of legal voting age in 2008 won’t be around to see the end result of this 50-year plan. Instead, it’s the youth, the students of the six-county region, who will hopefully reap the benefits of this work.

So why not include them now?
The Grand Vision Youth Engagement temporary committee met for their first meeting in November 2011. This subcommittee was made up of educators, non-profit representatives, governmental entities, and community members who hold a stake in what it means to work with the youth of northwest Michigan. The group was charged with the task of creating a comprehensive strategy for… what else?… engaging youth in the activities and processes that Grand Vision partners had been working on for the past five years. The decisions were presented to The Grand Vision CORE team and one more subcommittee meeting was had before the project was turned over.
Three committee members have now taken the lead on Grand Vision Youth Engagement and Doin’ Stuff with The Grand Vision: Youth Engaging in Community Activities was born March 2012. As a team, the three of us represent three major methods of community involvement. In my work with the United Way Volunteer Center, I am connecting these students to their communities through volunteerism. Connor Miller, in his capacity as the Student Civic Engagement Coordinator with NorthSky Nonprofit Network, is giving students the chance to improve their communities through placemaking opportunities. Rochelle Currier’s investment in technology and multimedia has deemed her in charge of documenting the work that is being done through student video projects, which has become our first priority as a team.

For the last month, the three of us created a flyer and have planned and executed presentations in 10 schools spread throughout the six-county Grand Vision region. We currently have 90 students signed up as interested in creating their own videos within groups in their schools. Each group will brainstorm, write scripts, plan shots, shoot video, and edit video under the watchful guidance of our team members.
But what will these videos cover? To start the brainstorming process, we’ve asked the students some basic questions:
What does your community mean to you?
Where do you hang out?
Why do you like it?
What do you want to improve?
This project will, in their most basic form, highlight the places these students spend their time. In a 1-3 minute video, they can promote a place in northwest Michigan that they value. They’ll show what has been done to make that place so special and how it is continuing to make a positive impact on the surrounding area. Not only will these projects document current places, but they’ll also serve as the beginning to a conversation about what students want their communities to become.
These videos will serve as further documentation of The Grand Vision in Action, an initiative that was launched in May 2011 to highlight the projects that have happened and are happening in support of, or sponsored by, The Grand Vision and its Principles. Those principles are simple and have been adapted so that the majority of improvements that are happening in this region can fall under The Grand Vision umbrella. The principles have been introduced to the students so that they are aware of the work we are trying to implement.

Back in November, the Youth Engagement subcommittee decided that one thing needed to be made clear to the youth of the region. “We need your help” became the resounding cry of the subcommittee and of our core team. By showcasing our need for these students to become a part of the process, we are able to realize a more well-rounded philosophy in the vision. By introducing the youth to The Grand Vision, we are able to succeed more fully in attaining our ideal view of the future of our region. We need the youth of the region to become a part of The Grand Vision because it is THEIR future we’re trying to create. This push for youth engagement and involvement is part of the next phase of The Grand Vision in Action, because this is THEIR vision just as much as it is ours.