Leaders of Today

Leaders of Today

Citywide Youth Coalition activists on the steps of New Haven City Hall rallying for sanctuary schools. Photo provided by Citywide Youth Coalition.

On a winter evening in New Haven, a diverse group of teenagers and adults gathered for the monthly “Dinner and Dialogue” meeting hosted by the Citywide Youth Coalition. The topic was the youth criminal justice system and a local policy expert was on hand to help inform the discussion. But the meeting was conceived and led by the adolescent members of the coalition.

“We don’t look at our youth as the leaders of tomorrow,” says Citywide Youth Coalition Executive Director Addys Castillo. “We look at them as the leaders of right now.”

At the heart of Citywide Youth Coalition’s mission is creating opportunities for young people to develop leadership skills and be engaged in their schools, neighborhoods and communities. Now more than four-decades old, the youth organization supports and runs programs based on the Positive Youth Development model of adolescent behavior. The model is based on research that shows when young people have a variety of experiences to learn,  participate in decision making, and are supported by nurturing adults, they develop “protective factors” that help them avoid making bad decisions.

Castillo, who took the reins of the coalition last year, has made a point of expanding its reach to include more young people and let them take charge of the coalition meetings and activities. And the area youth have responded.

The members have created a policy agenda around three issues: juvenile justice; sanctuary schools; and clean water advocacy for the residents of Flint Michigan. They also set the topics for the monthly “Dinner and Dialogue” meetings, which tackle a different issue each month at the public library and regularly attract 50 or more attendees.

The youth are also creating actions out of their meetings. They created a campaign to raise awareness of a criminal case against a peer New Haven student being tried in adult court and facing 61 years in prison for being present at the scene of an assault he alleges he did not commit. And they organized a rally on the New Haven Green following the presidential election that attracted more than 400 attendees.

“I was floored by what they accomplished,” Castillo says of the rally. “Youth activism is happening at Citywide. And young people who are politically engaged have better outcomes.”

In addition to creating opportunities for youth members, Citywide Youth Coalition also provides a network for youth serving organizations and people who work with youth to exchange ideas and receive training.

Citywide Youth Coalition is funded by individual donations and grants from corporate and private foundations including from The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.

To learn more about Citywide Youth Coalition, visit its profile on giveGreater.org.

Did you know?

The five Cs of positive youth development (PYD) are: competence, confidence, character, connection, and caring, leading to youth contributions, the “sixth C” of PYD. 

This story is part of the Inspiration Monday story series produced by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.  

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