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Teamwork and Community in New Haven, Connecticut: Hill Youth Action Team
Submitted by Ana on Tue, 04/13/2010 - 09:23.
The Hill Youth Action Team – better known as HYAT – is aptly named. The five young people that gather weekly in the Hill neighborhood’s public library are doing just that: they’re taking action on the issues that matter most in their hometown. In a neighborhood where crime and poverty are too often the reality, HYAT youth are serving and leading their peers and neighbors by tackling pressing community challenges.
Despite its struggles, the Hill neighborhood, located in the southwestern part of New Haven, CT, knows community; for nearly five years now, neighborhood residents have gathered in community forums to share their thoughts and concerns about life in the Hill. From the beginning, “adult participants were deeply concerned that young people be engaged,” recalled Deb Stewart, Director of Youth Development Training and Resource Center, the New Haven-based organization that sponsors HYAT. Adults were not alone in that concern; Hill youth were equally invested in taking an active part in community life, and when YDTRC launched the nascent HYAT in the summer of 2006, neighborhood young people got involved. Their first program, a six-week summer youth leadership camp, part of the Youth@Work employment program, began with eight young people from the Hill; it has continued ever since.
HYAT has grown and adapted to community needs; however, the spirit of collaboration among HYAT young people and Hill adults that inspired the initial group has remained constant. Over the past four years, HYAT’s issue-based projects have addressed everything from blight to underage drinking, and local adults have turned up at their events, supportive and excited about the work. “It’s good for the adults in the neighborhood to see that young people care about the same issues as they do,” Ms. Stewart observed.
HYAT’s community collaboration goes even a step further: all of HYAT’s projects, including their most recent forum devoted to sharing accurate information about sexual health, are rooted in research about community needs. “This project [the sexual health education forum] started with a survey,” Tiffany Frazier, one of HYAT’s adult advisors, explained. “The kids took the survey to their schools and found that one of the top issues among their peers was sex education. They were concerned that there’s not enough information and discussion about the topic.”
So HYAT youth did something about it. For the past three months, as part of the Innovation Center's Collective Leadership Works service-learning initiative, HYAT members have researched a slew of hot-button issues related to sexual health – everything from abstinence to birth control; they’ve reached out to local experts at Planned Parenthood and neighborhood health clinics, and when it came time for the forum, HYAT young people were experts themselves.
The event, an “open forum for youth and adults where people can say what they have to say with no finger pointing,” was, as one HYAT member, Terrell McLaurin, simply stated, “a big success. All the kids participated in it.” Local experts and HYAT members sat on an informational panel; they shared sex education facts, debunked myths, and fielded questions from forum participants.
“Having the topic be something that teens are interested in was really important,” Elma Acosta, a freshman at the University of New Haven and an advisor to HYAT said. “It may seem awkward to talk about it [sexual health], but… if it’s something they’re interested in, they’ll talk about it.”
HYAT members are proud of their event and its success, but when sharing their thoughts on the forum, all returned to a single theme: the importance of teamwork. “I think the most important thing is how close we are,” HYAT member Terrell McLaurin concluded. “We’re a close team so we can do a lot of things. We can overcome our community [challenges].” Teammate Marquis Lowery echoed his sentiment: “The most exciting part about the whole thing for me,” he said, “is that I was with my group.”