I asked Ellie what three things she wanted people outside of her city to know about young people in Baltimore. Here's what she said:
• If we listen, we will hear pain. The harsh conditions that many of our young people are forced to navigate daily—conditions that are not of their making—are inexcusable. When we create opportunities for youth voice and leadership, our young people channel that pain into powerful action. Adult leaders need to listen and learn.
• The young people of Baltimore are brilliant creators of videos, custom bicycles, poetry, dance, websites, 3-D printed objects—anything they can imagine. Today, as I write, more than one hundred Baltimore City students are attending the EYE (Engaging Youth Entrepreneurs) for Change Conference, where students are learning how to code, financial literacy, and other skills, as well as presenting their innovative business plans.
• Baltimore's young people want more opportunities than are available to them. This summer, eight thousand young people registered for YouthWorks, the city's summer youth employment program, but there are only five thousand slots available. Only fifteen percent of young people in the city currently have access to afterschool programs. We have to start making the supply meet the demand.
Ellie's responses inspire me to work harder to move us beyond where we are now—not just in Baltimore, but in all communities and neighborhoods across our country. Our young people are our greatest asset. We need to recognize that by making them our greatest investment. Afterschool programs that promote positive youth development are key to giving our young people the opportunities they need, for success in school and in life.
You can read more about Ellie and the Maryland Out of School Time Network here.
Written by Gina Warner, President and CEO, National Afterschool Association.