Who will listen to this conversation?

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People are talking. Let’s hope someone’s listening.

All across the country, people are talking. They’re meeting in church basements, school libraries, homes and offices. Some of the groups are small, just a dozen or so youth or adults; other groups number more than 50.

They’re talking about today’s youth, about local communities and local opportunities. They’re talking about the future.

That’s good. Let’s hope someone’s listening.

The conversations were triggered by the centennial celebration of 4-H, one of the country’s longest-serving youth development organizations. It’s hoped that these national conversations will identify needs and strategies for youth development in the 21st century.

“We want the nation to know that we’re not building a granite monument to our 4-H centennial,” says Don Floyd, president of the National 4-H Council.

Each local “conversation” set the stage for the state “conversation.” And from Feb. 23 to March 3, more than 2,000 people will head to Washington for a national conversation, a springboard for future programs and policies.

Let’s listen in.

* We should develop more things for youth to do, says a group in Juneau, Alaska, and the activity should be based on input from youth.

Not surprisingly, this request resounded from many locations, including Ohio. The Wayne County conservation, which drew 40 youth and 10 adults in Wooster, said we need more activities that are safe for teens, like a dance club, entertainment or programs in the schools.

Similarly, the Erie County, Pa., conversation surfaced the need for more places for youth to spend leisure time that is a safe environment. And while we’re at it, allow youth to develop and help oversee these “youth places,” so that it’s “for youth, by youth.”

* We should offer free or reduced public transit so that all kids can access programs, the Juneau group added. The comment was repeated in many locations, including urban Dane County, Wis., where a Madison high school student added, “Kids can’t go anywhere without a car, so they hang on the street and then they get in trouble.”

* We should name youth to community groups that have traditionally had no youth representatives, said the group in Crawford County, Ohio, that included 15 youth and three adults. Nearly 100 youth from Mendocino County, Calif., agreed, saying youth need to be given a voice at the local, state and national level.

* Empower youth by telling them what they can do, not what they can’t do, urged 16 teens who gathered to talk in Belmont County, Ohio. Let us know what opportunities are out there.

These local conversations give communities, schools and families nationwide an excellent starting point to develop experiences that benefit youth for a lifetime and to bring positive change to the world. The comments cross color and creed, rural and urban boundaries, race and religion. Even people outside of 4-H should eavesdrop on these conversations because they certainly go beyond a single youth organization.

Let’s hope someone’s listening.

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