For EDC Senior Vice President Vivian Guilfoy, who has spent more than a decade working in the fields of community technology and youth development, one of the signs of progress is a blurring of boundaries. “The days of distinction between formal and informal education have come to an end,” says Guilfoy, director of EDC’s Center for Education, Employment, and Community (CEEC). “Young people learn at home, in school, at work, and throughout their communities. Our job is to create environments that support learning and help young people build the skills they will need to succeed.”
Guilfoy’s definition of success goes beyond academics or even career growth: She’s committed to helping young people develop leadership skills that will enable them to make a difference in their communities. One prime example of that work is the Young Leaders project, which Guilfoy helped to launch in partnership with the AT&T Foundation (the initiative’s funder), the America Connects Consortium, YouthLearn, and YouthNoise.
“We selected more than 25 high school students from community technology centers [CTCs] around the country and brought them together for a leadership development program combining in-person and online activities,” says Guilfoy. “Now they are doing amazing projects in their own communities.”
Each of the Young Leaders (a diverse group of talented young people between the ages of 13 and 17) has chosen a project to explore and work on in his or her community. The issues they chose include AIDS awareness, dropout prevention, homelessness, school violence, race, and images of girls in the media. In addition, the leaders continue to be active in their own CTCs:
- Pedro Estrada, from Portland, Oregon, has worked with his CTC to set up a mentoring/refurbishing program where participants build a computer from recycled parts, learn basic computer skills, and then take the computer home. Young people serve as mentors to both adults and other young people in the community.
- Itza Torres, from Austin, Texas, is committed to helping her local CTC better serve the Latino community. She has helped an instructor at her CTC re-work the curriculum to be more relevant and to incorporate more Spanish. She is now working on developing a partnership with a local ESOL program, in which each organization will refer students to the other.
- In Kennewick, Washington, Nickole Evans has been active in the fight to keep her CTC open. Earlier this year, the center faced eviction because it couldn’t keep up with the rent at the apartment complex where it is located. Evans participated in a television interview asking for funds and community support. “Children need the opportunity to use this lab,” she reports in an e-mail posting to her fellow Young Leaders. “The fight is gonna go on. I am not about to give up any time soon.”
- As a group, the Young Leaders conducted an online panel discussion for more than 1,000 community technology practitioners on how to include young people in community development and change.
Guilfoy sees in the Young Leaders evidence of what can happen as young people develop intellectual and communications abilities along with their digital skills. “We can’t predict what the future will be—or imagine what the next generation of technology tools will look like,” says Guilfoy. “But we can and should provide young people with skills that will help them evaluate and learn to use whatever new tools come along. Those skills include the ability to think, imagine, explore, raise questions, and—most important—make judgments about what they see and discover. The bottom line is that we want young people to go far beyond being consumers of technology. We need them to be thoughtful creators, inventors, and producers of knowledge. That’s what effective leadership is all about. Our future depends on it.”
Originally published on September 1, 2003