Local agencies aim to give teens the tools and experience to become future leaders of their communities, and other organizations are investing in those efforts.
The Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City and the Tri-County Community Action Agency, based in Bridgeton, are two of 10 agencies in New Jersey that will get grants from New Jersey Health Initiatives to fund programs for youth leadership.
New Jersey Health Initiatives is the grantmaking arm of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Each agency or organization will get $200,000 over three years to develop youth civic engagement skills, involve teens in summer employment and identify solutions to health needs in their communities.
“In New Jersey’s vulnerable communities such as Bridgeton and Newark, up to 40 percent of the population is under the age of 18,” said Bob Atkins, director of New Jersey Health Initiatives. “However, adults don’t always view them as valuable community resources.”
Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly led a similar pilot initiative with foundation grant money last year.
About 20 Bridgeton High School students spent the summer tackling hunger and food insecurity in Cumberland County by getting families to sign up low-income children for summer meal programs.
The Bridgeton Youth: Helping to Feed, Learning to Lead program was funded with a grant to the Gateway Community Action Partnership. Kelly said because of the teens’ work, he saw more children attend summer feeding sites throughout the city.
The mayor plans to lead the new Bridgeton project called Next Gen Leaders with selected teens ages 14 to 21. Other civic and government leaders, health and human services officials and universities also will be involved with awarded agencies and projects.
“This work will enable young people to acquire a sophisticated understanding of the barriers to health they see impacting their families, friends and neighbors and provide the resources to affect meaningful, sustainable change both now and in the future,” Atkins said.