Caring neighborhoods nurture healthy youth

Pilot program in Craig aims to weave positive environment across generational lines

To paraphrase that old television commercial, "It's 10 p.m. do you know where your neighbors are?"

A new program in Craig, called Caring Neighborhoods, is designed to bring all generations in the community closer together and let people know who and where their neighbors are. The project is an effort by Moffat County Youth First (MCYF), a task force of the Grand Futures Prevention Coalition.

"We'd been trying to implement this program, but didn't have specific funds for that when Pres and Patty Askew volunteered to head it up," Grand Futures project coordinator Cindy Biskup, said.

According to Pres Askew, chairman of the new Caring Neighborhoods steering committee, The Search Institute of Minneapolis (SIM) has done extensive research into how communities can foster healthy youth, and MCYF is working to promote the findings that research.

"Since 1958 they've been doing studies on the risk behavior of kids and they came up with a list of 40 developmental assets kids need to grow up healthy," Askew said.

SIM defines "developmental assets" as the positive factors a child needs in daily life in order to have a healthy self-esteem, the ability to establish and maintain positive relationships with others and to develop into a healthy, functioning adult. The Institute's list of 40 external (things other people provide for youth) and internal (things that young people develop within themselves) assets includes things such as family support, a caring school environment, service to others, adult role models, positive peer influence, creative activities, achievement motivation, peaceful conflict resolution, honesty, integrity, personal power and a positive view of their personal future.

"One of the assets from the Search Institute's developmental list addresses neighborhoods and getting children involved in neighborhoods," MCYF Steering Committee member Shannon Samuelson said. "I volunteered my neighborhood to be the pilot in Craig."

According to a study reported in the book, "Being Adolescent," by Reed Larson and Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, adolescents spend only 4.8 percent of their time with their parents and two percent of their time with adults other than their parents.

"In all societies since the beginning of time, adolescents have learned to become adults by observing, imitating, and interacting with grown-ups around them," the authors wrote. "It is therefore startling how little time modern teenagers spend in the company of adults."

Askew said the Caring Neighborhoods project is designed to reverse that trend for Craig's youth. Retired, Askew and his wife, moved to Craig three years ago from Denver to live closer to their grandchildren. "When we were in Denver, we got involved with helping at-risk kids," he said. "Anyone who's got grandkids or kids ought to get more involved with them."

In October, Gov. Bill Owens signed "Colorado's Promise" a commitment to General Colin Powell's "America's Promise," challenging Americans to commit themselves to supporting programs that aim to improve young lives. The five promises include:

n Ongoing relationships with caring adults.

n Safe places with structured activities during non-school hours.

n A healthy start for a healthy future.

n Marketable skills through effective education.

n Opportunities to serve.

"We have a big variety of people in our neighborhood, younger and older folks, and I thought it would be nice for my kids to be involved with older people to get to know them and to have people in the neighborhood who know them and care about them," Samuelson said. "To recreate a sense of community."

According to Askew, the program got off the ground in Craig several years ago when a survey at the middle school identified as many problems in Craig as there are in big cities. "In the spring of this year [2000] we formed a steering committee and picked "Caring Neighborhoods" as our first project," he said.

Samuelson enlisted the help of three other neighbors for ideas on things they could do to create a closer neighborhood. So far, they have successfully organized a block party picnic, a Halloween party for adults and youth at the home of Jim and Ann Dodd, a neighborhood "read-aloud" conducted by Janet Wilshire, and a holiday cookie exchange at the Samuelson's home. A caroling party is pending, and the neighborhood is planning an inter-generational Super Bowl party in January.

According to Samuelson, there are about 20 houses in her neighborhood, "which is basically the street of Villa View." The second pilot neighborhood will be Columbine Street, which backs up to Villa View. Samuelson's neighborhood has been so successful as a pilot group the steering committee feels comfortable spreading the program into other neighborhoods around town.

Askew believes it will take two to three years to get all Craig neighborhoods involved.

"It's a 10-year plan to implement all 40 assets into this community. This is the first year. At some point we'll have to integrate the program into the schools and churches," she said.

"Our focus is on making adults conscious of what youth and adolescents need in order to grow up to be healthy and productive individuals," Askew said. "I look at it this way for kids to grow up healthy, they have to have certain nutrients. There are a lot of things kids need besides food to be healthy they need boundaries, support, and to feel there are adults who know who they are and who care about them."

The SIM found that the average young person has only 18 of the 40 assets in their lives. The more assets they have in their lives, the less likely they are to engage in violence or have problems with alcohol or drugs.

"Ideally, if you could have a community where kids have 30 to 40 of these characteristics there won't be problems," Askew said.

"The project is about making people more aware of people and it's nice for my kids to know others, to have the neighbors know them, wave to them, and say 'Hi,'" Samuelson said. "It's been nice to get to know my neighbors."

Craig residents interested in having their neighborhood participate in the Caring Neighborhoods program can request information and support by calling Grand Futures at 824-5752 or e-mailing: youthfirst@hotmail.com.

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