Civic Engagement Strategies for Transition Age Youth
Young adults may sometimes feel as if they lack the skills or confidence necessary to do a particular job. Zach admitted that he lacked confidence when he first started with NCCC. He felt particularly unprepared during his first project in New Orleans when he was assigned to lead a group of volunteers who were given the task of rebuilding a house damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
Before he joined NCCC, Zach had no construction experience. One of his first projects with NCCC was to help rebuild a home.
He said "When I first heard about this project, I was pretty nervous. I had no construction experience and two weeks into the project, I was going to have to lead people building houses! There I was, walking into what was the studs of a home—what would some day be a family's home. And I was going to be there for eight weeks, rebuilding someone's house, and I had no experience."
He shared his initial reaction:
"So the first day at the house, I grabbed a hammer. And with the help of James, the site supervisor/mentor who was training me, I got to work on the house." He said that James not only taught him the skills he needed to learn how to build the house, but also instilled confidence in him. He would use that confidence to teach the other volunteers.
He went on to lead a group consisting of high school students from Vancouver and a group of adult professional contractors from Philadelphia. He had to cater his leadership style to suit the particular group, and says that NCCC gave him a chance to build those leadership skills. He added, "It's something I will always be able to carry with me."
About the experience he says "This situation really set the tone for the rest of my Corps member year—stepping up and dealing with challenges that were thrown my way, doing things and pushing myself to new limits. I could have backed out. I could have left. I could have said I didn't want to do it. But that wasn't why I joined the program. I joined to push myself to new limits, to try new experiences."
While not all civic engagement opportunities make mentorship a priority, as seen in Zach's example, it can help youth to develop leadership skills and confidence in their abilities.
Young adults may also not immediately understand the benefits of civic engagement. As with adults, they are more likely to feel disengaged if the purpose of their work is unclear or they do not feel empowered.
A successful strategy to increase civic engagement is to provide meaningful service that directly relates to the community's or young adults' needs. It is also critical to address young adults' attitudes and expectations early in the process, and to try to match experiences with their preferences and personal style.
For example, youth who care about interpersonal interaction may become frustrated in situations where they have little communication with individuals. It is also helpful to clarify what participants should expect when they start a project or task.