By DAVID VOEGELE

In October of 2017, there was a gathering of young people at an event called the Vermont Youth Rights Summit. It was hosted by Vermont AfterSchool (the non-profit association of after school programs and organizations in Vermont). One outcome of the event was the Youth Declaration of Rights. It is a document worthy of our attention. The official document is too long to include entirely here, so I will highlight key elements and statements.

On the subject of Education, youth should have:

• Access to free classes on Basic Life Skills (signing a lease, budgeting, taxes, resumes, etc.)

• Equal opportunities and experiences in arts education before, during, and after school

• A post-secondary education no matter their financial situation.

On the subject of Equality and Justice, youth should have the right to:

• Explore their identities in a safe environment

• Education on gun safety and to live in a gun-aware community that is educated  and  aware of proper gun usage

• Have their voices heard in legal decisions that affect everyone

In regard to Home and Shelter, youth should have:

• A safe place with a caring family and a bed

• Access clean, weather-appropriate clothing

• To be protected from abuse of all kinds

• Important people in their lives who spend time with them (mentors)

• Live with and be supported by caring adults

In terms of Mental Health, youth should:

• Choose their own identity, whether that be sexual orientation, religious identification, and/or gender

• Have access to affordable mental health care

On the subject of the Natural Environment, youth should have:

• A healthy environment that provides the basic necessities to all life

• Know about the environment, and what is being done to it

• Have a say about what happens to the environment

Regarding Physical Health, youth should have:

• Access to outdoor recreational and natural spaces

• Safe and affordable health care that covers medical treatment, preventative care, reproductive health, vaccines, and intervention

In terms of Social Support and Connections, youth should:

• Express themselves through feelings, speech, clothing, actions, creativity, and more

• Have support and education from friends, family, and community

• Connect to each other through technology and transportation

• Be respected and heard

• Be engaged in community

On the subject of Work and Transportation, youth should have:

• Ability to choose a safe and healthy job, while making a fair wage

• Accessible, reliable, and affordable transportation regardless of economic circumstances

I asked Nancy Tessier, the Assistant Director of the Essex Teen & Tween Center, what she thought about the Youth Declaration of Rights. Nancy is 21 years old, and a resident of Essex. She said, “Reading through the Declaration made me really happy, especially seeing how well-rounded it is. Something that is extremely important and personal to me is the Natural Environment category with a really powerful first bulletin of ‘a healthy environment that provides the basic necessities to all life.’ To me that shows how providing resources to our youth ultimately makes a healthier community as a whole.” I agree with Nancy. It is very impressive that youth are able to articulate so well a vision of what should be, for youth and the community.