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Benefits of Engagement for Youth

Civic engagement provides many opportunities for youth to gain valuable skills, experiences, and connections. Some of these benefits include:

1. Opportunities to develop skills that are translatable to the workplace

Civic engagement provides youth with opportunities for professional development normally reserved for adults. Through civic engagement, young people can improve their public speaking, leadership, teamwork and organizational skills, making them highly employable and more competitive on the job market.

Adapted from: 
Godsay S., Kiesa A., Kawashima-Ginsberg, K., Henderson W., Levine, P. (2012). Pathways into Leadership.
Germond, T., Love, E., Moran, L., Moses, S., Raill, S. (Eds.) (2006). Lessons Learned on the Road to Student Civic Engagement. Providence: Campus Compact.
Example of professional skill development through civic engagement:

YouthBuild, a program that assists unemployed young Americans (ages 16-24) with education, counseling, and job skills, provides youth the opportunity serve on a policy committee where they learn how to:

2. Academic success and interest in furthering education

A positive correlation exists between academic success and civic engagement at all levels of education--particularly for youth populations traditionally underrepresented in higher education. At the K-12 level, engagement contributes significantly to scholastic success, with outcomes such as increased attendance rates, decreased suspensions and higher GPAs, to name a few. Participation in civic life also helps youth realize the importance of a college education to their future success. By participating in activities that directly impact the community, youth come to realize that in-depth study and further education can enable them to more effectively address complex community challenges.

Another major factor in youth academic/college success is the strength of students' relationships with their teachers and faculty. As a result, Service-Learning courses and other forms of community engagement which require deep level thinking, reflection and discussion, contribute to the strengthening of relationships between youth and educators and can contribute to improved GPAs, writing and critical thinking skills.

Example of academic success through civic engagement:

The University of Massachusetts-Lowell and Tohono O'odham Community College's Dahiwakud Project involves students and faculty who provide training and technical assistance to faculty and students of the Tohono O'odham Community College to install solar units for families in the Tohono O'odham Nation in Arizona. Students from both campuses showed improved attitudes toward learning and were interested in staying involved with the community after the project ended. The students also reported improvements in their skills and knowledge related to solar energy.

Adapted from:
Cress, C., Burack, C., Giles, Jr., D., Elkins, J., Stevens, M. (2010). A Promising Connection: Increasing College Access and Success through Civic Engagement.

3. Enhancement of democratic skills, knowledge, and civic responsibility

Engagement enhances a young person's belief in the possibility of political change. By participating in community change initiatives, youth gain a greater understanding of local, national, and international political frameworks--the mechanisms by which change occurs. 

Engagement can help youth develop the following civic skills:

Adapted from:
Flanagan, C., Torney-Purta, J., Sherrod, L. (Eds.) (2010). Handbook of Research on Civic Engagement in Youth. Hoboken: Wiley.
Germond, T., Love, E., Moran, L., Moses, S., Raill, S. (Eds.) (2006). Lessons Learned on the Road to Student Civic Engagement. Providence: Campus Compact.
Roholt, R.V., Hildreth, R.W., Baizerman, M. (Eds.) (2009). Becoming Citizens. New York: Routledge.
Example of democratic skill, knowledge, and civic responsibility enhancement through civic engagement:

The Sacramento City Unified School District created Youth Congresses, which play an important role in the schools' reform efforts. Students in the program perform research, advocate for changes by presenting issues and concerns to the school board and work collaboratively with administrators to address them. The students also work together to organize and facilitate a district-wide Youth Voice Town Hall.

Adapted from:
Paul A., Lefkovitz B. (2006). Engaging Youth. Sacramento: Youth Services Provider Network.

4. Feeling of importance and connection to the community

Youth gain a sense of importance and connection to their community when they realize their own ability to address and solve its issues. They recognize that a community's success is tied to their own active participation in public life, thus instilling in them a sense of their own significance. Youth who are connected with their community also realize that issues which directly impact them are part of larger community-wide concerns. They learn to develop as community actors/members rather than focusing on achieving distinct personal goals and become more confident to act as leaders and change agents. 

Example of increased importance and connection to the community through civic engagement:

Casey Harris of the University of Maine at Augusta entered college for the sole purpose of career advancement (Casey had no knowledge of or connection to social issues). While at school, he became involved in the Raise Your Voice (RYV) campaign (a student-led civic initiative on college and university campuses), which turned him into a civic leader on campus:

"At the beginning of RYV, I had nothing to draw on in terms of social issues. I lived in my own little world and tried to make enough money to support my family. So fair trade...the magnitude of world hunger...all of those things that I have learned about, I had no clue about."

Adapted from:
Godsay S., Kiesa A., Kawashima-Ginsberg, K., Henderson W., Levine, P. (2012). Pathways into Leadership.
Lewis-Charp, H., Yu H., Soukamneuth S., Lacoe J. (2003). Extending the Reach of Youth Development Through Civic Activism. Tahoma Park: Innovation Center.
Germond, T., Love, E., Moran, L., Moses, S., Raill, S. (Eds.) (2006). Lessons Learned on the Road to Student Civic Engagement. Providence: Campus Compact.

5. Increased awareness of and willingness to address racism, sexism, classism, homophobia and other forms of prejudice

Civic engagement heightens ones awareness of racism, sexism, classism, homophobia and other forms of prejudice in our society. Youth who are exposed to these issues are more likely to be open to dialogue about structural prejudice and more willing to take action in addressing inequality. Youth civic engagement programs that focus on creating dialogue and taking action help build relationships amongst social, cultural and ethnic groups by:

Example of greater awareness and inter-cultural education through youth civic engagement:

The Youth Dialogues on Race and Ethnicity program aimed at increasing intergroup dialogue among youth in the neighborhoods and suburbs of Detroit engages young people of African, Asian, European, Middle Eastern, and Latin American descent. The program allows youth to share their personal experiences of growing up in the area, and encourages them to discuss their social identities, group memberships, and other social and cultural affiliations. Youth in the program are taken on tours of the city and exposed to neighborhoods unknown to them as a result of Detroit's vast segregation.

Adapted from:
Checkoway, B. (2009). Youth Civic Engagement for Dialogue and Diversity at the Metropolitan LevelThe Foundation Review, 1(2), 41-50.
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Last Updated: 12/18/12