By David Voegele
Executive Director, Essex CHIPS

In my first Youth on Board column, I referenced Positive Youth Development as an effective strategy to help youth thrive. This approach is embraced by most national non-profit youth organizations, and by the numerous community programs serving youth in Essex – including Essex CHIPS.

Key elements of Positive Youth Development include community/school support, and opportunities for youth to participate in a variety of rewarding activities. One young man who has benefited from the support/opportunities offered by his community – and his school – is Nathan Wu. An EHS Junior, Nathan is deeply engaged in school activities, such as Student Government, Scholars’ Bowl, Math League, Model United Nations, and Peer Helpers. He is a member of the Cross Country and Nordic Ski teams, the Tri-M Music Society and the National Honor Society. Nathan is a busy young man, so it is even more impressive that he also serves on the Board of Directors for CHIPS.

I asked Nathan why he is so involved in school and the community. He responded, “In truth, all of the clubs/activities that I am a part of excite me… Many school and community activities teach students to be active members of and strong leaders in the community. I personally saw some of the clubs that I chose to participate in as a freshman as a means for me to address issues that I believed were present in the school and in Essex. I feel that the provision of these activities helps to empower youth and promote activism, encouraging them to become leaders in the future.”

Another element of Positive Youth Development, which has benefited Nathan, is family support. “I think that my parents, coming from an immigrant background, recognized that the many opportunities available to me should not be taken for granted and pushed me to take advantage of as many of them as I could, and I’m thankful that they did so.”

From my perspective, Nathan is an excellent example of a thriving youth, who is engaged in his community and hopeful about his future. Key factors that have enhanced his growth and development are his family and his school. As a whole, I would argue that Nathan has benefited from a very supportive community. Essex is that way. Not all communities are.

When directing another youth agency years ago, I became convinced there should be a way to measure how supportive a community is to the healthy development of its youth. After many robust discussions within Essex CHIPS and the Essex Healthy Youth Coalition, a new initiative for that purpose has emerged. The new Quality Youth Development (QYD) Project has established a series of benchmarks that a community can seek to attain in order to achieve certification as a “QYD Community.”

This type of credential will be good for both youth and the community. In future columns I will explain why this is so, and update the community on local efforts for Essex to attain certification as a “QYD Community” – and how you can help!