Editor's Viewpoint: Mentoring local youth pays dividends


The gift that keeps on giving.

A version of this article appeared in the December 2012 print issue with the headline: Give the gift that will keep on giving.

This is the time of year when inspirational messages flow like eggnog, which may be the reason why someone invented spiked eggnog. Even if I grow a little tired of all the good advice, there's one type of inspiration that always makes me feel better — a story that involves young adults.

I was lucky that two such stories found me just in time, as I was searching for something to say to you on this page. They are two tales of good works that will pay dividends for both the givers and the receivers, and are worth repeating here so you might consider doing something similar. Two simple but effective programs exist in communities at opposite ends of the country, and were created by parks and recreation departments for their local youth. (See "Growing your own parks and rec staff.")

In November, Mecklenburg County, N.C., graduated 20 young adults between 14 and 17 years old who completed its 40-week internship. The program included working at many of the county's facilities and parks. They also took part in Saturday workshops focusing on customer service and other types of skills that will be useful throughout their lives.

Young adults in California also are learning similar types of good habits in a Recreation Employment and Achieving Career Happiness program sponsored by Los Angeles County. Over the summer, high school juniors and seniors and college freshmen and sophomores receive six weeks of weekend training followed by 500 hours of shadowing employees from the county parks and recreation department.

What is being discussed at those workshops also are keys to living a rewarding and successful life, for example the importance of a good work ethic, understanding other cultures, and my personal favorite, how to resolve conflict. Certainly one of the goals of the program — to encourage young people to consider jobs with parks and rec departments — has been reached. LA county reports that 66 percent of its participants continue to work with them after the program is over.

However, in addition to creating well-rounded people who you would want to hire, the outstanding achievement of the programs is the increased confidence that the participants say the program creates in them — where shy kids can now speak in front of a group or from others who say that the program gave them focus and purpose because "no one ever believed in them before."

This is a season wrapped in beliefs, but at the top of the list of those is faith in yourself. It's the magic ingredient that lets you face each day with the confidence that you can handle whatever comes your way.

While similar stories are being played out across the country, I'm only glad that we found those two in time to include in the December issue. I won't tell you where to look for them, though, because you're going to need something to read as you drink all that eggnog.

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It features the Editor's Viewpoints and contributed commentaries.


Derek Prall

Derek Prall is a professional journalist who has held numerous positions with a variety of print and online publications including The Public Manager magazine and the New Jersey Herald. He is a 2008...

Jason Axelrod

Jason Axelrod is an award-winning journalist who has reported for The Seattle Times, The Arizona Republic, the Phoenix Business Journal and Mother Nature Network, among other outlets. Jason...
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