Connections between youth and adults make kids matter
By Sara Plachta Elliott
It always makes my day when I see someone around Detroit in a t-shirt that says, “Kids Matter Here.” It is one sign that I live in a city filled with adults who care about kids.
Over the past year, The Skillman Foundation staff and partners have been thinking together about how to deepen connections for young people in Detroit and how caring adults play a critical role as connectors in the lives of young people.
The late Dr. Peter Benson, former president of the Search Institute, had a lot to say about connections and caring adults. He devoted his life to exploring how young people discover compassion and contribution in life, how youth discover their unique gifts and their human spark. While in dialogue with the Dalai Lama, Dr. Benson quoted Plato: "Youth are not empty vessels to be filled but flames to be lit.”
Dr. Benson explained that caring adults help youth, through relationship, to become passionate, whole and connected. The Dalai Lama added that the concept of “spark” means the creative force of the child, and he notes that a young person’s spark could become constructive or destructive.
So, how do we ensure that young people use their creativity and passion in constructive ways? Benson said that young people need to live in a community where they get the idea: “This city is a place that sees young people are resources, not as problems to be fixed. So they want to be seen as I’ve got something to bring to our world”. In other words, let me know that I matter to this place.
The truth is that Detroit needs its young people. The transformation of our schools, neighborhoods and city will not be realized without the full harnessing of their positive contributions. Youth also won’t recognize their own full potential without multiple opportunities to find their spark and connect to opportunity.
When I think of myself as a teenager, I remember how I found a passion for listening to others and how adults in my life noticed this gift and connected me to opportunities to explore career options that ultimately led me to become a social worker and a researcher. When I think of my 7-year-old niece, I know she has a passion for art and wonder if she’ll turn her gift into a career. Recently, I talked to her about her drawings and she told me confidently, “My teacher told me that I’m an artist.” At age 7, she is already connecting to a pathway of positive contribution.
Do you know a young person? Have you asked him or her about what sparks their passion and creativity? Have you asked him or her, in Benson’s words, “What is good, beautiful and useful about you?” And finally, have you connected him or her to a community of shared passion where he or she can make a positive contribution?
-- Sara Plachta Elliott is the Evaluation Fellow at the Foundation