Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Gathering Resident Input to Improve Youth Outcomes: The Listening Project

CSSP’s work in communities has been guided by the notion that service, system, policy and community improvements are most effective and sustainable when community residents are fully engaged as partners and leaders. Residents know best what resources are available (or lacking) in the community, how families are experiencing existing systems and what solutions might best address community needs. 

Through the Spotlight on Community Change Series, we hope to lift up community examples that demonstrate our vision of child, family and community well-being by promoting neighborhood strategies like workforce development, asset building, reading success, community development, organizational capacity and resident engagement. The Listening Project in Windham County, Vermont serves as a prime example of how one community was able to create a youth agenda driven by the recommendations of residents throughout the County.

In 2007, Youth Services, an organization committed to providing programs and services that promote the healthy development of local youth and families in Windham County, Vermont, embarked upon qualitative research entitled the Listening Project: Giving Voice to Adolescent Youth Living in Difficult Circumstances.  This research was part of a comprehensive Youth Opportunity Planning Process aimed at developing a strategic plan to guide the organization and the community in serving the County’s youth. 

The Listening Project was initiated by interviewing twenty young people from a broad cross section of the County about what it would take for a young person in Windham County to feel empowered, valued and successful in their life. The interviewers consisted of teams of trained youth and adults.  In addition to data collected from the one-on-one interviews, Youth Services convened local meetings to  encourage more community input for the strategic plan.  For example, the Board of Youth Services, which consists of about 15 youth representatives, conducted a two day workshop to review the research collected from the Listening Project.  In addition, 60 community partners joined with a team of youth to hold a full day learning session with town government, state government, and law enforcement around youth issues.

In these meetings, improved transportation services emerged as one of the important priorities that should be addressed in order to better support youth in the County.  Partnering with the Windham Regional Commission, Youth Services began to develop a project that would improve the coordination of services amongst existing transportation services and identify what is needed for an improved transit infrastructure.   In March 2011, Youth Services and the Windham Regional Commission convened the County’s four school supervisory union superintendents, school bus service providers, and the region’s transit providers to discuss immediate and long-term opportunities.  Follow-up meetings are now taking place to explore coordination of services beginning with the 2011-12 school year.  All fourteen legislators representing the region are aware of this initiative, and have signed on to a letter in full support of the effort.

For more on Resident Engagement.  


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