Chuck Hibberd: Engaging our youth… an opportunity too good to pass up

2023 People Attraction Summit to focus on youth engagement

Are you aware that our Nebraska youth would like to live and work in their hometown? The 2023 NCF Greater Nebraska Youth Survey shows that 64% of Nebraska youth prefer to live in their hometown or somewhere similar. This is great news for all of us!

So, how do our youth view their current involvement in our communities? The Youth Survey revealed that 65% say they are invited to share opinions or get involved in town projects or happenings (this is also great news!). Of concern, only 24% say they are actually involved in decision making about the community (like events, programs, law making, or projects). The bottom line: our youth want to engage and be part of creating the community that they want to call home!

So, how might we do this? You could start by connecting with youth in your community and fostering genuine conversations about what could be (Note: a person like a teacher or coach can be really helpful in making this happen). Then, put youth in charge of what they want to accomplish and support their effort with resources and financing. Finally, invest the time to reflect with youth about their work – how they feel about their accomplishments and what might be different next time. Done well, engaging youth can solidify their connection, commitment, and loyalty to their community… and increase their willingness to stay or return home.

Nebraska communities are engaging youth in very creative ways. Youth can be encouraged to discover the not-so-obvious assets in their hometown. Our Hometown Interns will tell you that their hometown blossomed before their eyes as they searched and discovered the assets that make their hometown a great place to live and work.

In Leigh, youth are working on projects important to their community and are learning to connect and work with their town council and other local leaders to garner support for their efforts. This is a great example of youth involved in civic engagement.

Another approach is to help young people in our communities discover employment opportunities. Bertrand is doing a People Attraction experiment to connect high school youth with the jobs and careers that already exist in their community. And to especially connect youth with businesses who might be looking to transition ownership in the next 5-10 years. This approach could create win-win solutions for everyone.

Obviously, there are many ways to engage youth in ways that matter to them. Communities interested in starting or strengthening youth engagement work are invited to the 2023 People Attraction Summit on Friday, November 10 at the Younes Conference Center in Kearney. At this event, youth-led community teams will build their vision and capacity to contribute to their future in their hometown. Click here to register.

Chuck Hibberd is Dean and Director Emeritus at Nebraska Extension. He currently serves as Vice Chair of the NCF Statewide Board of Directors and Chair of NCF’s People Attraction Committee.

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