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Community Youth Mappers push for Youth Community Center

Lexington Park, MD- Efforts to bring a Youth Community Center to St. Mary’s County is now one-step closer to becoming a reality.

In February, TheBayNet.com shared plans for a Youth Mapping Program to raise more support for the proposed community center. On Friday, Aug. 18, the Youth Mappers completed their summer work and their research is now being transcribed into data to identify what businesses and residents would like to see in a community center.

Community Youth Mapping (CYM) is a development strategy that employs young people to canvass their communities to document community-based resources, needs and opportunities. Planning experts believe seeing the community through the eyes of young people is a more comprehensive assessment of what a community has to offer and what it needs.

The Steering Committee for Youth Community Center turned to Marcia Greenberg for guidance after she suggested the idea of youth mapping. CYM has been used across the country. The process employs youth to go out into their community to gather information. The teens who were hired attended training sessions before being sent out into the community with pre-designed survey materials.

Four field supervisors worked with a group of seven to eight youth during the past seven weeks. “It was more complex than anyone anticipated. We had 31 youth mappers and no one dropped and four great field supervisors," Greenberg explained. “We started out in brutal heat but they did what they needed to do.”

The teens spent weeks walking up and down Great Mills Road, interviewing businesses and talking with residents to garner support for a community center and to see what people hoped the community center would provide to the region. Each day, they collected information and returned to the Lexington Park Library in the afternoons to debrief. The following morning they would input their data from the day before.

CYM isn’t just beneficial to the Youth Community Center Steering Committee, but to the mappers, as well. “They built self-assurance, they matured, they learned what to expect in the workforce and they learned to not take rejection personally,” explained Monqiue Osborne, field supervisor. “We all learned there are some interesting businesses in the area and some of the students may even be able to go back and find employment.”

Field Supervisor Shanice Fenwick, said she was impressed by the dedication of the youth mappers. “We hit business, after business, and the youth never complained and did an awesome job.” The teens were ages 15-18 and most are students at Great Mills High School (GMHS). Amber Young is an incoming senior, “I gained a lot of people skills and I learned how to better communicate. I was nervous at first but I became more comfortable as the time went on.”

CYM not only provided employment and a unique experience for the youth but they also learned to work as a team. “They built a sense of community among themselves. They all learned about each other in a different capacity this summer. They supported each other. They showed team effort and team support.” Osborne noted. “We’re thankful for the experience. It was learning experience for us, as well.”

The mappers and field supervisors found many businesses and residents in the Lexington Park area are very receptive to the idea of a community center. “A lot of businesses said they’d love to help out and some even offered funding to help us.” Donovon Weekley, a sophomore at GMHS, said. “The older generation wasn’t very interested but people from teenagers to about 40 were very responsive and excited.”

CYM visited 300 locations and collected more than 650 completed surveys. “Many in the community agree something is needed for the youth in the area,” Greenberg noted. “I think we’re at the point where county commissioners can now appoint an advisory committee.” One question on the survey asked residents if they would be willing to serve on an advisory committee and there was an overwhelming number of people who said they were interested.

A third-party consulting company, Block By Block, will analyze all the data and provide recommendations that can be submitted to county commissioners and county administrators.

Greenberg hopes with this solid information, county leaders will focus more attention on the approval process for a community center, “We’ve now increased our visibility and we have the data to take to the county.”

The current capital improvement plan will not address the addition of a community center until 2022. “We’re hoping county commissioners now realize we have started the conversation and this will hopefully speed up the process.” Greenberg said.

Weekley said, “I hope for the next generation won’t be facing the same problems our generation is facing right now because they’ll have something to keep them occupied.”

You can learn more about the plans for the Youth Community Center and the Community Youth Mapping project. 

There’s also a Facebook page.

Contact Joy Shrum at j.shrum@thebaynet.com

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