Holy Cross Parish
Starting in 1998, the Youth Council has given young people in the community an opportunity to affect positive change in their own community.
In the past Youth Council members have had honest, open dialogue with the assistance of adult advisors about issues like substance abuse and domestic violence in order to understand the problems that youth face. Starting with this initial understanding of the issues and their own interests as residents of the neighborhood, members of the council have made planned movie nights, dances, barbeques, Big Brother/Big Sister events, sports tournaments, and other activities based on their goals for youth in the neighborhood.
Along with these diverse recreational activities, the Youth Council has also planned educational events, including job-skills and life-skills workshops and a youth newsletter to strengthen the community, giving them an opportunity to have a voice in their neighborhood. This, in turn, has allowed them to develop leadership skills to have a positive influence on the future of the area.
One of the biggest strengths of the council, however, is its agility and its ability to grow and change to meet the needs of the young people. When the Back of the Yards got a new high school in 2013, the needs of the youth in the area changed. Before the school, young people had limited opportunities for safe social events and service projects—two things the council provided. But how with the school providing a much greater range of opportunities, the council is reevaluating the neighborhood’s needs to determine how they can better help young people.
Still, even with these gains, the Youth Council is especially important in Back of the Yards, a community that has sometimes struggled to support its youth. The dropout, truancy, and attendance rates and standardized test scores at local schools are considerably worse than state averages. From 2009 to 2011, the area saw a 10% increase in total crime, with a large part of it connected to gang activity.
The Youth Council is grounded in a service-learning model that involves its participants in independent self-evaluation and reflective thought. In this system, the members—not the adult advisors—mediate disagreements and make decisions, which helps them become active leaders in the community.
Programs like the council that develop leadership and life skills empower young people to discover and define themselves as independent and self-confident thinkers. A good leader determines family or community values, develops a strategy to realize those values, enacts change, and invites others to join.