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New process allows town to receive certification for positive youth development

In the same way that a town can receive certification for achieving energy efficiency, a group of local human services organizations has created a process for a community to become officially recognized for promoting youth development.

The Positive Youth Development Community initiative — a new effort spearheaded by DIAL/SELF and other social service agencies — creates a certification process for communities. To become a PYDC, a town must achieve five standards and meet 16 benchmarks, all related to the promotion of children and young adults.

In a PYDC, the youth have a public place to congregate. Police and school officials look out for the interests of young people and businesses actively hire them. A panel of young adults serves as an advisory board for the town’s top-ranking town officials.

“We’re not asking that the community coddle youth,” said David Voegele, PYDC coordinator and executive director of DIAL/SELF. “We’re asking the community to provide opportunities for youth to become productive, healthy and responsible members of the community.”

The ultimate goal of positive youth development, said Voegele, is to inspire and engage the town’s young population — a group that includes the community’s future customers and leaders.

He said that when local agencies met two years ago to discuss youth development strategies, it became clear that while several agencies were already doing this, there were no unified townwide efforts.

“The logic is — if it’s successful when we practice it, wouldn’t it be more successful if schools were embracing it, if local businesses were embracing it?” said Voegele. “We see this certification process as a way to raise consciousness … about the value of positive youth development.”

Kara McLaughlin, project director for the Gill-Montague Community School Partnership, believes that communities must change their youth development strategies.

“There’s sort of this unconscious part of our culture that sometimes views youth negatively,” she said. People don’t “realize how every member of our community is responsible for the upbringing of our youth.”

Becoming certified

The first step to becoming a Youth Development Community is simple: a town must submit a letter of interest to 196 Federal St. in Greenfield or via email at PYDCinfo@gmail.com.

Then, a local agency will decide to sponsor the town, and will begin seeking out local community champions. These champions will then in turn convene a meeting of community leaders — an information session for the town to discuss its intention to become a Youth Development Committee.

The Gill-Montague Community School Partnership, an agency that is part of the PYDC Collaborative, has decided to sponsor Montague. The Partnership is in the process of organizing the meeting of community leaders to get the PYDC application process under way.

“We were thinking Montague would be a good place to try it out,” said McLaughlin. “Many of the standards and benchmarks … Montague has them already.”

For instance, The Brick House in Turners Falls provides a free and safe space for youth to congregate — one of the required benchmarks.

If the town decides it wants to try for PYDC status, the Partnership will then work with town officials to create a “local work group.” This group will develop a plan for the community to achieve the necessary standards and benchmarks, or check off ones that already have been met.

Other benchmarks include the formation of a youth council, a youth employment pledge by local businesses and the production and distribution of Teen Help Cards containing health and safety access information.

Police and school officials must undergo youth development training and post pledges in their public offices. And human service organizations must actively recruit youth for community service projects.

The benchmarks can all be accomplished within a year, said Voegele. The PYDC Collaborative — the group that will evaluate the candidates and ultimately grant certification — wanted the process to be thorough but still possible to achieve, he said.

There is also the hope that by creating a replicable process, PYDC could be adopted in other parts of the country, he said.

But for now, the focus is in western Massachusetts, where Voegele said the race is on for local towns to become a Youth Development Community.

“Montague is right at the beginning of the process,” he said. “It will be interesting if more than one community (becomes a candidate). Who’s going to become the first certified PDYC in the nation? It just doesn’t exist.”

The PYDC Collaborative includes the following organizations: Americorps VISTA, Brick House Community Resource Center, Community Action!, North Quabbin Community Coalition, Communities that Care Coalition, Community Coalition for Teens, DIAL/SELF Youth and Community Services, Franklin-Hampshire Regional Employment Board, Gill-Montague Community School Partnership, Strategic Planning Initiative for Families and Youth, Northampton Prevention Coalition and Youth Representatives.

All organizations take part in the evaluating process, unless the agency is connected to the town that is seeking PYDC status, said Voegele.

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