Commit to caring about teens

In your title article for the "Gangland" issue ["Putting in Work," May 6], DeWayne Barton made an astute comment about how we can engage young teens in the life of our community. He said, "Find the things the kids want to do."

For over a year, the Asheville City Schools Foundation has led a community-wide consortium to do just that. The Listening to Our Teens project has interviewed over 60 teens (ages 11-14), 30 families and various service providers to understand how we can develop programs that engage youth after school and during the summer. This project was developed in response to the spike in youth violence that occurred in the summer of 2007 and the burgeoning gang activity we now face.

What we are finding out is simple. Young teens want to do noncompetitive sports, they want to explore careers, and they want to help others. What we are finding also runs contrary to our internalized ideas about teens. When asked, most teens still say their number-one role model is mom. We are also learning that if we commit to caring about the kids in our community, they'll respond in kind.

This summer, we're asking people to make that commitment to kids by helping to develop and support public-education initiatives. Find out about the Listening to Our Teens Youth Summit on June 4 and 5 by going online to: This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

— Leah Ferguson, co-director
Asheville City Schools Foundation

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