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Local youth are documenting community issues that impact them and their environment via photos, short videos and documentaries and then posting it on the Youth Voices Story Map site, which was launched in April.
The online map features 85 links that are connected to many stories illustrating issues varying from neighborhood cleanliness, safety, education, to employment .
Nine counties in the capital region area are displayed in the map. These areas are: Yuba, Nevada, El Dorado, Placer, Amador, Sacramento, Yolo, Solano and Sutter.
Six issues are showcased in the map: neighborhood assets, local challenges, health and safety, social justice, education and role models.
The map is navigated by clicking on issue area and/or initiative then a display of media produced in that area is showcased.
The site was birthed from a three-year action research project titled Healthy Youth/Healthy Region, according to Jonathan London, 42, director of the project.
Currently, there are about 100 youth involved, and the number is increasing steadily, London noted.
The purpose of the study was to document the condition of young people in the capital region. It begged the questions: how are young people doing here, what factors are influencing health and well-being and what can be done to improve the heath and well-being of young people, London explained.
London, also an assistant professor in human and community development, said he believes youth voices are crucial to the community.
“Youth Voices Map is the idea that young people have a right to he heard,” London said. “Their interest or perspectives need to be taken seriously by adults and leaders. This, very often, doesn’t happen. It particularly does not happen for young people who are underserved or unrepresented such as youth of color, minority, isolated, gay, lesbian, transgender or poor.”
One of the methods of the study is a youth-led participatory action research, which requires youth involvement, that is how Youth Voices Map came about, London explained.
The project reached out to youth-based groups such as Sactown Heroes which is a part of West Sacramento Youth Resources Coalition, a group that was already conducting its own research on healthy youth and a healthy region from its own perspective. They are interested in how the youth feels about their communities.
Yaminah Bailey, 26, a youth engagement coordinator for Sactown Heroes, said she was excited to have her youth work with the project.
“Youth Voices gives a tool to youth to showcase their perspective about the community, so I was excited to be involved,” Bailey said. “It helps (youth) to articulate and develop ideas into a framework by using research, collecting data and explaining findings.”
They have had about 25 of their youth involved. Raising awareness of the value of youth voices is something that will be good for other communities, Bailey said.
Kenneth Nix, 15, attends River City High School and was involved with Youth Voices in 2010.
He and other students developed a video documenting places in West Sacramento that they felt impacted them negatively or were unsafe and their thoughts about them, Kenneth said.
They looked at a local McDonald's and found it unsanitary, he added
“You should have perspective from every person,” Kenneth said. “Young people are beginning to be heard because we are actually putting our voices out there.”
London said people need to remember that the youth are the future.
“If (the) Sacramento capital region is going to be successful in the future, we need to do a better job taking care of young people and ensuring they have resources and opportunities necessary for them to succeed,” London said.
It is necessary to understand in what way the region and its success affects the well-being of young people. The region can’t succeed in creating plans for young people if young people themselves are not directly involved, London noted.
Andre Bailey, 15, also attends River City High School and said he was involved with Youth Voices in 2010.
“We wanted people to hear about our environment,” Andre said. “We did a video and took photos of the Sacramento River. There is a lot of litter, graffiti and trash.”
When decisions are being made, we want policy makers, leaders, community members and such thinking, “What do youth have to say about these issues?” London said.
“Teen knowledge is very good knowledge to help our community,” Andre added.
The program draws from many already-established youth organizations to get members.
Some of these have been: Wind Youth Services, Youth In Focus, the Cordova Community Collaborative, Students Reaching Out, the Documentary Foundation, Sutter/Yuba Friday Night Live and the Center for Multicultural Cooperation.
There are no particular requirements for youth to join.
Sactown Heroes has composed 43 stories, and the Youth in Focus Project has composed 25 stories, London said.
Youth Voices Map is an ongoing project. It is welcoming other young people in the region to commit to contributing their writing and stories and it will be shared on Youth Voices story map.
According to London, Health Youth/Healthy Region project will be releasing a report on July 14. There will be an event for it at Sierra Foundation on Garden Highway.