Kids are the future – and don’t forget it!

Yesterday I had some email exchange with Patty Adams, Editor in ANR Communications, who helps me with the weekly Spotlight and if I were a superstitious person, I might think she somehow connived to give me a series of reminders that our youth programs are really core to our future success.  So here’s what happened:

Patty sent me a draft of Spotlight with some stories that we had talked about previously and others that folks had sent to her as suggestions for the Spotlight.  Our goal with Spotlight is to be sure the spotlight of attention shines on various people and programs in MSUE to help us all appreciate what our colleagues are doing and to get some ideas and inspiration from our program impacts.  So this week’s draft had three stories that featured youth programs and I wrote back to Patty that I thought I’d hold one off for next week and perhaps suggest that another one be told by someone else through some other venue.  I’m mindful that each of our Institute program areas has stories to tell and I aspire to be balanced in where we shine the Spotlight.  Patty responded tactfully that we get loaded up with youth stories because those are the ones we receive suggestions on the most.  So there’s a message for folks in other programs – feed us some material so we can have a balanced showcase in the Spotlight.

In the course of the past few hours, I’ve received emails about a great story that will be in the New York Times Magazine this weekend (already available on the web) that features work of the youth farmstand project in Monroe County and its impact on Alexandra Reau who has started her own venture, growing produce for a 14 member Community Supported Agriculture group.  If that name seems familiar, it should: Alexandra is the daughter of Brenda Reau, Extension educator from Monroe County and Mark Reau.  This story is a great complement to a story that was in the Lansing State Journal earlier this week which used the MSUE 4-H Discovery Camp to illustrate the new directions we’re going with our programs by highlighting the bio-fuels and alternative energy focus of the camp. And it complements two other stories on youth programs that were in the news this week:  the recognition of a mentoring volunteer from Ottawa County, Harry Leeuw as a finalist for the Mentor of the Year award presented by Governor Granholm last week, and the work of Gary Williams, Extension educator from Wayne County whose position and program are a joint effort between Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment and MSUE to reach youth in urban communities across southeast Michigan with outdoor skills and youth development as a focus.

And I spent the morning in dialogue with Extension directors from the north central region (Michigan west to North Dakota, south to Kansas and east to Ohio) about how we can work together to address the needs and issues in metropolitan communities across the upper Midwest.  Chuck Hibberd, Director at Purdue University, captured the essence of our discussion with the observation that everything we do in metropolitan communities should ultimately result in children and youth being successful in becoming productive contributors to the future of our metropolitan communities.

Okay – I got the message!  By saying that the focus of our redesign is to better prepare Michigan for a prosperous future, certainly one of the measures of our success will be on whether today’s infants, children and youth are better positioned to succeed in Michigan’s future economy.  You can find more details about the Harry Leeuw and Gary Williams stories by going to my blog.  In the meantime, whether your programs are affecting today’s children and youth directly or not, I’d really appreciate your help in calling attention to those people and programs that signal what difference we make in Michigan’s current and future state.


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4 responses to “Kids are the future – and don’t forget it!

  1. Isn’t that a great story? I feel extremely hopeful when I hear about youth like Alexandra. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Erica Tobe

    I just wanted to send a quick email to alert you all to another wonderful MSUE connection that hasn’t been highlighted yet related to Alexandra’s article. It was referenced in the email that Alexandra received some of her start up funds from a competition from the Prima Civitas Foundation. The group that funded that competition was IGNITE through the Moving Ideas to Market Initiative which is currently being run by the PCF Foundation (and funded by the Mott Foundation).

    Chris Stickney, Associate Program Leader for MSUE, is the project implementer of that grant, subcontracted by the Prima Civitas Foundation. In addition, IGNITE is heavily represented by MSUE staff – as Laura Allen is a current member; and I am the current chair of the committee.

    Alexandra was the first place recipient of the middle school division for the competition in 2009. IGNITE and the Moving Ideas to Market Initiative has been a key collaborative that MSUE 4-H has been a member of for the past two years and is represented by many of the leading youth serving organizations promoting youth entrepreneurship.

    Just wanted to make sure you were aware of the additional connection we had to this wonderful story!

  3. Brenda Reau

    I would like to comment about the New York Times article featuring my daughter Alexandra and her Community Supported Agriculture business. I have received many heartwarming wishes from colleagues across the country who read the story. It does illustrate the positive impact that our 4-H programs can have on young people.

    She developed her love of gardening and selling produce through our Monroe County Youth Farm Stand Project. I think however she has gained something even more important from participating in the project and that is an appreciation and understanding of others. Our small, rural school district has some diversity of socioeconomic status but almost no racial diversity. As a youth growing up in this same school district I never had an opportunity to interact with an African American individual until I was a freshman in college. Not much has changed in 35 years. The Youth Farm Stand Project has given her an opportunity that I did not have.

    Both of us were stunned to see how the author of the article labeled the YFS Project kids “disadvantaged.” It was not a term that either one of us had used. Their neighborhood is low-income with a high minority population and does lack access to fresh produce but branding the kids with this term lacks sensitivity on the part of the writer. My daughter is very concerned what the youth who she has become friends with will think about this label. She will have a chance to visit with them tomorrow when she goes to work at the farm stand.

    I think there is lesson here about how we refer to others particularly in a public document. In our Extension program planning and evaluation we may describe our audiences but it is important not to label them. I had a conversation with our YFS volunteer leader about this issue and he said that he also finds the term “youth at-risk” to be troubling because it is label attached to the kids rather than the circumstances that put them at risk.

    Being sensitive about we perceive and interact with others in an ongoing learning experience. I hope we all can learn from experiences like this one.

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