Tapping the power of youth
County youth master plan near completion

by Jeff Mannix

In 1946, Dr. Benjamin Spock wrote a book that revolutionized the way parents think about and administer child rearing. In “Baby and Child Care,” Dr. Spock declared that parents should be more flexible and affectionate with their children, comfort them when they cry, and treat them as individuals. What made this practice revolutionary was that the conventional wisdom had been that child rearing should focus only on discipline – let the baby cry himself out of his selfish hysterics for attention.

Over the decades and several generations since Dr. Spock’s book – one of the biggest-selling books of all time at 50 million copies and still in print – thousands of child development books and programs have besieged parents, therapists, educators and the juvenile justice system. Realizing that the youth of today will become the leaders of tomorrow, society does not want to squander this investment but is unsure of how to train them to meet the rigors of citizenship.

La Plata County is about to experience a reformation of mind, body, politics and spirit in the forming of the “Children, Youth & Family Master Plan.” The plan is the work of the Virginia-based Onsite Insights and consultant Richard Goll.

“Thriving is much different than being problem-free,” Goll said. “The key is shifting the community from deficit-based introspection to an asset-based model.”

Goll is spending two weeks of every month this year in La Plata County gathering support from the five government entities, three school districts, many youth programs and all 40,000-plus residents for his meticulously researched and complex process for tapping into the power of youth.

The Onsite Insights process will incorporate and build upon the youth programs already operating in the county, overlaying seven “action areas” identified by the National League of Cities’ platform for Strengthening Families and Supporting Children and Youth Outcomes. These action areas include early childhood development, educational excellence and after-school services, youth in transition, neighborhoods and community, youth development, health and safety, and family economic success.

The process will be set up by Goll and Jenny Bruell, of the county’s Department of Human Services, utilizing seven action committees made up of both youth and adults. The goal will be to, as Goll explains, “explore the current reality, envision a more desired reality and to make recommendations to move from the current to the desired.”

The Master Plan will, as Goll envisions, “utilize a youth engagement model in which youth and adults work as equal partners in a three-step process.” First, a Youth and Adult Core Team representing all segments of the county will be formed to guide the Master Plan. Strategic Focus Teams, one for each of the seven action areas, will meet weekly for eight months to develop “community-specific strategic recommendations” for their action area. Then governing bodies, representative of various communities, will review the final plan and implement the enrichment processes germane to La Plata County. All this activity will be kept on track by seven facilitators, whom Goll says are the key to the success of the Master Plan.

“We need to make this a system, as opposed to fragmented efforts, as good as they may be, and in Durango you have many excellent youth development programs,” says Goll. “We have to bring together champions of causes, not simply solid services. The Children, Youth & Family Master Plan starts to change the culture, shifting from deficit-based services to an asset-based model and empowering an entire community to thrive and grow healthy.”

Goll and his wife, Cindy Carlson, both of Hampton, Va, have been at this therapy for a long time, earning national acclaim. They have consulted on various aspects of community wellness with more than 200 communities throughout the U.S. and abroad. In 2005, Goll’s time-tested Hampton Master Plan was the winner of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government Award for Innovation in American Government. Leon Andrews, project director of the National League of Cities, refers to Goll as a trailblazer and a man with “uncanny insight into the dynamics of empowerment, and the patience and ability to guide communities through the process of enrichment.”

Engaging youth is, of course, not new. School systems, youth camps and every government in virtually every country in the world have platforms for youth enrichment and development. But Goll and

Carlson believe a paradigm shift is needed to embrace what the American Youth Policy Forum identifies as “the gaping hole” in many of today’s youth: a sense of place and a stake in the community.

Goll sees this change as the responsibility of adults. “We don’t start with ‘what’s in it for the kids,’” Goll said emphatically. “It’s the whole community that benefits and the whole community that has to be engaged for this paradigm shift to take place, a shift that will change the lives of youth and the next generations.”

Goll added that he does not seek out communities to implement the master plan. “La Plata County and the City of Durango invited this process,” he said. He decided to accept the offer only after weeks of studying the community, he said. “We determined that the progressive nature of leadership in the various governments throughout the county was highly suited to make a success of this system,” he said. “This is a unique, conscious and forward-thinking community. If we can get buy-in from youth – which we’re well on our way to getting – and utilize the dedication the adults obviously have to their community, this process will dramatically increase the economic and social well-being forever.”

Strategic Focus Teams and Leadership Committees are currently being formed throughout the county. For an adult or youth participation application, or for more information, contact Jenny Bruell at 759-9353 or by e-mail at Bruelljl@co.la plata.co.us. •



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