The Decisive Contribution of Youth to Community Well-Being
Shodjaee-Zrudlo, I., & Farahmandpour, H. (2017). The decisive contribution of youth to community well-being. In R. Phillips & C. Wong (Eds.), Handbook of Community Well-Being Research (505-521). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer Science+Business Media.
Scholars in the field of community well-being and development have long been concerned with the theme of participation. Since external resources of various kinds are often limited (DeFilippis and Saerget 2012), community members need to take charge of their own development — a process which should assist them to engage in deliberate action to improve their quality of life. Some community members may be involved in this process as professionals; government agencies or nonprofit organizations usually employ these individuals. However, the number of such professionals dedicated to any given community usually falls drastically short of the needs, and it is generally not sufficient for community participation to be reduced to their efforts alone. A great deal of time and energy from many volunteers are therefore required. Although all members of a community can contribute in one way or another as volunteers, one of the most important resources a community possesses is its young people (Finn and Checkoway 1998). Recognizing the agency of young people and highlighting the importance of volunteering one’s time to promoting the well-being of the community can substantially broaden the potential for greater participation in community development.
The first section of our chapter begins by articulating some of our key terms — including ‘community’, ‘community well-being’, and ‘community development’ — and the relationships among them. Our understanding of these terms has important implications for the way in which youth can contribute to their communities and the nature of programs that strive to raise their capacity to do so. We then discuss common perceptions of young people, and the possibilities for greater participation in promoting well-being when they are viewed as potential volunteers for community development, as opposed to regarding them solely as consumers (Giroux 2009), potential threats to society (Lesko 1996), or students (Kurth-Schai 1988). Youth are in fact particularly well suited to the work of community development, if we consider their adaptability (Lerner et al. 2005) and the relatively large amount of discretionary time available to them (Larson and Verma 1999). If we examine the Canadian context, youth also have an impressive track record of volunteering (Hall et al. 2009).
With this new perspective on the potential of youth, it is possible to explore a conceptualization of youth and community development that establishes a mutually reinforcing relationship between the two. As youth contribute to the development of their communities, their own development is advanced and their capacity grows (Christens and Dolan 2011). Of course, young people need support and assistance to be able to contribute to the development of their communities in a structured way. Youth programs are required that assist them to acquire the relevant knowledge and to develop the requisite qualities, attitudes, skills, and abilities for participation in the process of promoting community well-being. We therefore explore three elements of such programs — their content, the way this content is delivered, and the youth group itself — to identify characteristics of the kinds of programs that can help advance the two-fold process of youth and community development. The chapter concludes by reviewing a few examples of Canadian programs that incorporate some of these characteristics.