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Development of our youth - It's not just the school's job

A little over a year ago, I wrote an article for The Explorer entitled: "In OV, we’re proud of our young people, and we want them to know it." The inspiration behind that piece was my ongoing commitment to the youth in our community, and the responsibilities we have to ensure they are engaged and recognized.

November 19, 2014

Recently, the National League of Cities and Towns President, and Mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota, Chris Coleman stated that, “All our children and youth need the social and emotional preparation that enables them to… become confident, caring and contributing citizens of our communities. To do that, our educational programs—both inside school and out—must focus on the development of the whole child.”

This challenge only reinforces my passion for youth engagement and my belief that the healthy development of our youth isn’t solely the responsibility of our schools. Whether you’re part of a faith-based organization, a not-for-profit, a small business owner or just a neighbor, I challenge each of you to seek out ways in which you can contribute to the development of our youth. It’s also a smart investment in our economic future.

When we work together to guide the development of tomorrow’s workforce, we are ensuring the stability of our economy. As an astounding number of “Baby Boomers” are now entering retirement, there will be a long-term need to fill those vacancies with a motivated, educated and talented workforce.

It also warrants mentioning again that according to 2010 Census data, there are now nearly as many residents in Oro Valley under the age of 18 as there are over the age of 65. As such, this call to action is very relevant for our community. Programs like Project Graduation and the Youth Advisory Council have been established to help meet the needs of this growing segment of our population.

Project Graduation, which I founded in 2003, is a collaboration of volunteers to ensure students at Canyon Del Oro and Ironwood Ridge high schools have a safe and sober graduation event. To date, more than 8,000 Oro Valley graduates have been served by this community-sponsored event.

The more I work with our youth, the more I realized the opportunity we have to provide practical, hands-on experience in leadership and municipal government. So in 2012, I spearheaded the formation of the Oro Valley Youth Advisory Council, which comprises 10th- through 12th-grade students from Oro Valley high public and private high schools. I am so proud of what this group of young leaders has accomplished in its first two years. Youth Advisory Council members have volunteered for the Your Voice, Our Future project (General Plan Update). They are developing educational materials to provide technology tutoring sessions for senior citizens and have continued to participate in major community events.

Another outstanding youth program offered by the Town is the Oro Valley Police Explorers - a branch of Boy Scouts of America. This program is available to anyone ages 14 to 20 with an interest in law enforcement as a career. In fact, several former Explorers are now serving in the Oro Valley Police Department as well as other jurisdictions. Participants in this program dedicate themselves to community service and assist with special events while engaging in leadership and career-orientation activities.

As a community, we are charged with growing tomorrow’s leaders today. Part of that growth is recognition and encouragement - letting our young people know they’re on the right path and making a difference here and now. One of the ways the Town of Oro Valley seeks to provide such recognition is through the monthly Spotlight on Youth program, in which students from Oro Valley schools are publicly recognized for their achievements at a Town Council meeting. However, there are far too many excellent young people for any single organization or individual to recognize and encourage. It takes all of us. Our collective impact will foster their leadership development and commitment to service.

Chris Coleman closes his article with some words of advice that I would also like to share with the Oro Valley community: "Let’s give all of our children the skills they need to grow and prosper. There is no more important role we can play."

By Councilmember Mary Snider  - Explorer Newspaper, 11/19/14

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