Guest Post: Harwood Institute principles elevate teen voices in Sarasota County

Guest Post: Harwood Institute principles elevate teen voices in Sarasota County

Posted on May 28, 2013 by Emily Caldwell

Editor's Note: Emily Caldwell, a junior at Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School, is a board member of SCOPE, Sarasota County's community engagement organization. Emily recently participated in a community conversation that used Harwood Institute principles to spur engagement. 

“We have a voice, too!” Teens in Sarasota County made this known to the SCOPE Community Data Initiative team. At 9:30 am on a Saturday, a group of chatty and energetic diverse teens were all gathered (thanks to Community Youth Development) to create their own community conversation.

Currently a junior at Cardinal Mooney, I sit on the SCOPE board and was approached by John McCarthy and Colleen McGue (who attended this workshop) to help design a teen-inspired community conversation. Community Conversations, a model developed by the Harwood Institute, was designed to “inspire and guide people to step forward and take action rooted in their community and stay true to themselves.”

Sarasota is made up of different age groups, ethnicities, cultures, etc., providing citizens with a diverse environment. The society we live in will soon be run by our future generations. This generation will hopefully keep Sarasota not only beautiful but will also improve the conditions we are currently facing today. The information shared through these conversations can help inform how we make these improvements.

A series of questions were asked by Colleen, the conversation leader, while Laurel Corrao and I took efficient and thoughtful notes to collect this information. The first question asked was, “What kind of community do you want?” After many different desires were shared, we narrowed it down to the most important issue/major concern Sarasota is facing. Teen entertainment/youth activity was the No. 1 answer, followed by security and education. Being a teen myself, this topic was relatable and allowed me to see that I’m not the only one who finds these areas as a challenge. This conversation highlighted youth aspirations, main/specific issues, concerns and actions that would make a difference. The group mentioned the people they trust to act, and asked any questions they had.

Through this conversation, we were able to learn that the lack of teen entertainment/youth activity is a “hot-topic.” Having a safe, centrally located, affordable hangout is something teens in Sarasota county want. A sports team, a teen night club and comedy club, and boardwalk/pier/fair were suggestions. Although none of this happens over night, better public transportation, affordable entertainment, and a safer environment are actions that can make a difference. To help advance these activities, the group stated that they trusted our county and city commissioners along with teachers, some coaches, and local businesses. In the future, they hope that their suggestions will make Sarasota a safer, more diverse community where people can interact with each other and enjoy themselves.

I would like to thank SCOPE for this great opportunity. Through this process, I have learned more about my peers. Participating in this Harwood method provided me with a valuable tool I am now able to use. This new source of information will benefit our community's teens and allow us to enhance this already notable community.


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