Yolonda Reid and Cornelia King have recently taken responsibility for developing after school activities in the Grant Park Recreation Center, one of 33 public recreation centers in Atlanta. Their work is part of Mayor Kasim Reed’s efforts to make the recreation centers the foundation for outstanding youth development in Atlanta.
Dennis Embry and I joined Chaundrissa Smith, Emilie Smith (no relation), and Will Aldridge in meeting with Yolonda and Cornelia to see if we could help them make their effort a success. Emilie is an expert on how to use the Good Behavior Game in after-school programs. Dennis and I were particularly interested in seeing if we could help develop youth activities that could build youth skill and cooperation at the same time that the increased social cohesion in neighborhoods.
But when Yolanda described one of the activities she has already done with youth teams, I realized that I was more likely to learn something new than to provide them with new ideas.
She handed out a beautifully illustrated, spiral bound book titled, Bridging the Gap: Skills of the Elderly Rediscovered and Retold by the Youth of Butts County. It gives 60 recipes, as well as skills for work around the house, in the yard, in the garage, for life, and just for fun. You can learn to bake cornbread, wash clothes, plant a garden, prune fruit trees, get over depression (“Get out of the house to get out of your misery”), fish, make a quilt, swing a golf club, change the oil in a car, or change windshield wipers.
The book was produced by the students of the class of 2013 of Henderson Middle School. One hundred and fifteen students worked on it. Most interviewed an older person about a specific recipe or skill and wrote up instructions for it. Others designed the layout and the artwork for the book. The project was guided by Yolanda, Angela Johnson, Sherrie Gray, and Sheryl George.
How many ways does this build the community? Elderly people, many of whom are alone and isolated, get a pleasant visit from a young person. Many young people make a new friend. Young people learn new skills. Youth and adults work together, thus undercutting fear and suspicion that many adults may have about young people. The whole community gets to see what their youth can do. And the book becomes a resource for hundreds of homes in the community.
Efforts like this are budding all over the country thanks to the skills and concepts being disseminated by the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. This is just one example of the many ways that our society is evolving to nurture the wellbeing of young people.