Champions of Change
Champions of Change was a pilot study in 2019 to engage juniors and seniors attending Minot Public Schools in focus groups with their peers to learn more about what community means and how we can build community culture, through the eyes of young people.
Oftentimes community leaders in rural North Dakota ask, "What do we have to do to get young people to stay?" and "How do we get more young people to get involved in the community?"
Through Champions of Change, we wanted to dig in and find the real answers to these questions. Rural communities in North Dakota experience ongoing outmigration of its young people after high school. We believe there is an opportunity to give youth a voice before they make plans after high school, creating a larger sense of community and the space for young people to champion the change they want to see in their communities.
By empowering youth to become Champions of Change in their communities, it has the potential to increase local college and university enrollment from local high school graduates or increasing the number of young people returning to their hometown after completing college elsewhere. Additionally, by retaining youth who are involved in the community, energized and eager to begin their adult lives, it creates an opportunity for entrepreneurship and rural job growth, changes in civic leadership, and increased involvement in local government.
What We Learned
LISTEN: Young people are incredibly creative, energetic, and positive. Communities can work together with young people by truly engaging them in projects and conversations. We learned that oftentimes adults ask young people to get involved, but don't truly give them an opportunity or the freedom to contribute their ideas and services. This is a key piece in truly engaging young people - we must listen and allow them to contribute in their own way, without preconceived expectations.
LET THEM LEAD: There were five participants in Champions of Change. During our four months together, the participants wanted to hold an event for young people. This was not a part of the original plan, but we listened. The participants often times hit roadblocks and we would provide potential solutions and resources, but we never stepped in and did the work for them, even when it would have been easier or they wanted us to. Participants planned and implemented a Street Dance for teens, in which they secured a free and safe location in Downtown Minot, a local police chaperone and fencing, a DJ of their choice, food and beverage donations, and marketed online ticket sales. The goal was to sell 50 tickets and the participants sold more than 100. The evening was an absolute success, and they did it all on their own, giving them immense personal satisfaction. It also taught them everything that goes into planning and implementing an event and some learned that they really enjoyed it and others learned they didn't. We also engaged a local artist and together designed, planned, and implemented the completion of a public mural in Downtown Minot.
GIVE THEM OPPORTUNITIES TO ENGAGE: Our main programming was to set up time and opportunity for important, but difficult conversations to help broaden their understanding of the community and the needs of the community. We engaged subject-matter experts in North Dakota and had important discussions about homelessness, race and gender equality, environmental impacts and recycling, and attended a City Council meeting. We provided participants with leadership books and opportunities to develop a personal mission statement and identify personal values.
Supporting the voice of young people and gaining a deeper understanding of that voice will change community decision-making and expand inclusion. Communities that truly undertake this meaningful process have the potential to transform into places where youth feel they belong.
North Dakota Change Network, National Arts Strategies, North Dakota Council on the Arts, Indak Media, The Human Family, Minot Domestic Violence Crisis Center, Minot Area Homeless Coalition, Minot Area Men's Winter Refuge, Minot Environmental Policy Group, Strengthen ND, Magic City Lions, Badlands Restaurant, Couple of Artists, 62 Doors, The Putt District, Minot Area Council of the Arts, Magic City Hoagies, Broadway Bean & Bagel, Aksal Group, City of Minot, Minot Magazine, Central Regional Education Association, Qdoba, Sherwin Williams, Minot Police Department, Brokers 12, Hight Construction, Minot Downtown Business & Professionals Association, Margie's Art Glass, Planet Pizza