WRI is partnering with the NJ YMCA State Alliance (NJYSA) to better understand the perspectives of young people and stakeholders about building youth civic engagement in their communities through focus groups and interviews conducted with youth, young adults, and NJYSA stakeholders. NJYSA initiated this project to learn more about how it could improve service delivery and increase civic engagement among young people.

Through quantitative analysis of focus groups and interviews conducted by NJYSA over the past several months, WRI sought to identify and summarize current YMCA staff and youth perspectives on civic engagement. While the responses in each focus group varied, several key needs emerged.  Among those, defining civic engagement, hearing about the needs of the community, identifying necessary resources to address those needs, and identifying opportunities for personal and community-level civic engagement were identified as priorities.  Young people expressed interest in opportunities for involvement that aligned with their passions and were inclusive. “Doing it (civic engagement) because you want to, not because someone made you,” was what student focus group participants reported as being an important factor when it came to being involved in this kind of community work. Staff at local agencies were similarly concerned about youth engagement in their programs, but also noted challenges related to program sustainability.

Funding was identified as an area of concern, as well as cooperation and collaboration between organizations, and a more holistic approach to supporting community needs. The findings will be used to support planning and evaluating current and future civic engagement programs at YMCAs throughout the state. The insights will enable these organizations to tailor their programs and approaches to better meet the needs of their clients and communities.

Photos provided by YMCA.