It's easy to assume that all communities want their young people to feel valued, making the statistics from Middletown's 2007 developmental assets survey seriously concerning. Not only was that particular asset (#7) low, but with only 19% of students reporting feeling valued it was the lowest out of all the 40 assets. As with other adults, Mayor Sebastian N. Guiliano, became concerned about what this statistic meant to the young people in Middletown and was intent on finding ways to raise it up.
A few months later as Mayor Guiliano was sitting with YSB staff members and discussing this particular statistic, an idea for involving teens in the city's decision making process was generated. In its infancy the intention was to create a process in which young people could become advocates for their peers while learning more about how government works. Soon after an approval from the Common Council turned the idea into a formal ordinance of the city, Middletown became one of the few communities in the state to offer this kind of opportunity to teens.
When considering the asset framework, there is often a copious amount of discussion around intentionality and using survey results to guide reflection and action. Additionally, the Youth in Government initiative is an active example of the shift in thinking that focuses on youth development and programming. Many governmental meetings were happening without having young people in attendance. By introducing their presence into sessions we are engaging kids and allowing them the opportunity to view leaders in a work environment… developing real role models for future leaders that will make our community proud.
Kate Dumeer, now a junior at Roger Williams University notes, "I was able to work alongside local leaders like the mayor and superintendent and had the opportunity to hone my leadership skills in a way I never had before." For Youth Services Bureau Advisory Board Chairperson Elizabeth Nocera (who regularly houses five students on the committee) the Youth in Government program "helps our young people and future voters understand how the work of a municipality is conducted and how priorities and community vision is established."
Most importantly the program shows our youth that we value their input and their participation helps build a stronger community.