Rise U.P. for Youth focuses on meeting challenges

MARQUETTE – Representatives from youth-serving organizations, community leaders and youths gathered at The Holiday Inn Friday to tackle challenges facing young people today.

The daylong Rise U.P. for Youth event drew about 160 people and included numerous activities, discussions and a presentation by keynote speaker John Seita, associate professor of social work at Michigan State University.

Seita, who gave a presentation on growing up vulnerable, said it’s not a matter of what to do, but how to do it.

“All young people have dreams and goals. We’re hard-wired to have a purpose,” Seita said. “It’s about creating environments that offer those opportunities.”

He said issues such as neglected children and school drop-out rates are prevalent throughout the country. He added that educators are continuing to be pressured to produce higher scores from students.

“If a child comes to school hungry, alone or scared and you want them to study, they can’t because their basic human needs haven’t been met first,” Seita said.

He said seeking higher expectations without satisfying needs such as food, comfort and a sense of belonging is a set up for failure.

Among group activities at the event was “Youth Fishbowl,” which included a handful of young people at one table in the center of the room. Surrounding them were dozens of adults ranging from youth mentors to teachers and parents. The teenagers were able to take turns discussing what challenges they are confronting and what they expect from the adults in their lives.

“Listen. Just really listen to us,” one youth said.

Another teenager emphasized the stereotypes she feels are placed on her and many of her peers.

“I just want adults to understand that we’re just like them,” she said. “We make mistakes just like them.”

When asked by one adult where the youths stood on current legislation, they didn’t skip a beat.

“I think cutting counseling in school is awful. It needs to stop,” remarked one girl.

A peer sitting nearby agreed and added: “Anyone who says there are more important political issues than education is wrong. … We are the future.”

The youth roundtable debated several questions and concerns of their own and of the community members surrounding them.

“Our hope is that people will go home both energized and with new ideas,” said Judy Watson Olson, president of The Great Lakes Center for Youth Development, which sponsored the event.

“It’s our goal to enhance dialogue throughout the U.P. on how we can help kids who are facing the most challenges to do better in school and in life,” Olson said.

She said youths that are at risk include those in low-income or poverty-stricken homes, those living in homes with mental health issues and those struggling or failing in school.

Some indicators of success in the Upper Peninsula include programming such as Hoops Night in Gwinn, which has been held every Saturday evening for the past 19 years. During this time, youths can go to the Gwinn High School gym free of charge and participate in games and activities, and mentors and volunteers are always on-hand.

Another youth program occurring in Dickinson County are clothes closets, created by students at the high school who donate and maintain a clothes donation. This way, if a young person should end up homeless, they can come to the school and receive clothing.

“We’re hoping to see more of these programs pop up across the U.P. that help (youths) feel more empowered,” Olson said.

Abbey Hauswirth can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 240. Her email address is ahauswirth@miningjournal.net