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Youth Coming Together To Make a Difference
Allamakee County, IA

This past summer, students in grades seven to nine from Postville and Waukon in Allamakee County, IA, came together at Lull’s Park to participate in “Join Hands Day,” a community service project consisting of beautifying the park area and its surrounding walk/bike trails. The students led the way in planning the activity and raising the funds to complete the project. They worked through the rain, spreading mulch along trails, staining wood benches and arbors, picking up trash, and raking rock in the playground areas.

Involving students has taught youth to appreciate and respect each other and work together to accomplish things for the community.

—Barbara Winter,
Project Director, Community Connections, Allamakee, IA

Join Hands Day is one of the youth programs sponsored by Allamakee County’s Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) initiative, Community Connections, that directly involves youth in making decisions and choosing prevention-focused activities that affect their lives. Besides giving youth a greater appreciation for hard work, activities like Join Hands Day and other youth participation projects provide youth with a meaningful stake in overcoming the barriers to their growth and success. Community Connections resolved that youth programs would reflect youth input and involvement after analyzing information gathered during focus groups.

A Place for Students

Community Connections operates programs for youth under the Allamakee County Youth Task Force. These programs include popular and successful after-school and summer programs serving students from K through 12 th grade. Small-group tutoring, academic enrichment activities, and experiential learning clubs are offered to give youth a leg up academically. These activities can mean the difference between realizing success versus dropping out of school and falling into dangerous behaviors like substance abuse and criminal activity. The programs also provide students with supervised, safe places to be outside of the school day.

Older students in the program develop their own activities, which have included guitar, dance, and chess clubs as well as tutoring sessions to assist younger students with their homework. “Letting students take the lead in this program has produced an unexpected positive result. The younger students now have role models that they can relate to,” said Teresa Wiemerslage, Allamakee County extension education director and member of Community Connections’ advisory council.

Junior and senior high school students began to refer to their role in the Youth Task Force as Teens in Action, feeling that it better reflected what these programs want to achieve. Teens in Action operates a youth leadership camp that teaches students leadership skills and promotes civic-mindedness and volunteerism. Participants in Teens in Action choose a civic activity and make it happen; for example, Join Hands Day began as a faith-based community service project. A mix of students participate, including model and at-risk students. This teaches the youth in the program to appreciate and respect each other as they work together to bring about change in the community. It also gives at-risk students who might otherwise feel isolated an active role in their school and community.

Youth Act as Their Own Advocates

“Teens in Action encourages youth to be their own advocates for safe and drug-free lifestyles,” said John Lacewell, Community Connections youth facilitator.

Youth serve as spokespersons for activities promoting alternatives to substance use and violent behavior and have taken the lead in reaching out to other youth in the community. Teens in Action developed two public service announcements (PSAs) for local radio, which were aired in partnership with local radio stations. The PSAs raise awareness about Community Connections activities and encourage other students and their parents to participate.

Spokesperson duty for Allamakee County’s student leaders has included meeting with policy makers to deliver their message. In 2005, student leaders met with State officials while representing their community at the Great American Smokeout Advocacy Day in Des Moines. Several Allamakee students participated in the “Youth in Action—Making a Difference” National Youth Summit in Washington, DC, in July 2005. The summit focused on ways youth can make their voices heard through public policy, community service, and their own creativity, including exploring ways to build and maintain meaningful partnerships that strengthen communities. The National Youth Summit also paired student participants with national policy makers, giving the young people the opportunity to work with, learn from, and support them. Opportunities like these give Allamakee’s students a useful set of skills to take home.

Communities on the Road to Success: Allamakee County, IA
Situated in rural northeastern Iowa, the Allamakee County community has experienced increasing rates of juvenile crime and youth engaging in violent activity and substance use. Insufficient prevention education, inaccessible services for youth and families, and lack of training on school safety policies presented barriers to addressing these problems. In order to address these concerns, the Community Connections SS/HS initiative is integrating services into an easily accessible, comprehensive network of programs and activities, such as mental health care services, after-school programs, and peer mentoring, that promote violence prevention and healthy development. Parenting workshops, home visitation for young families, and violence prevention curricula help communicate effective prevention strategies to students and families. The Allamakee initiative is also updating school safety policies to create a more secure school environment.

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Last Updated on 1/27/2015