From today through Sunday, cities all across the United States and the world will observe Global Youth Services Day (GYSD). The event is organized by Youth Services America (YSA), a non-governmental body founded in 1986 with the purpose of expanding the role of young people in our communities.
According to their website, “GYSD is celebrated each year in over 100 countries, with young people working together — and with schools, youth organizations, nonprofits, community and faith-based organizations, national service programs, government agencies, and adult mentors — to address the world’s most critical issues and change their communities.”
At a time when the world is racked by so much violence and negativity, programs like this one stand as a shining example of the promise and potential of our young people. Targeted toward young people ages 5-25, the program promotes what it terms “service learning.” In short, young people become better members of society through service projects. The YSA Vision Statement reads in part, “YSA supports a global culture of engaged youth committed to a lifetime of service, learning, leadership, and achievement.”
For this year’s event, the GYSD website lists four projects in Arkansas: One in Little Rock at the Clinton Presidential Library (Interactive workshops designed to teach students about the importance of healthy eating and physical activity); two in Forest City (St. Francis County Youth Heroes Hiking Walks) and one in Paris (Do Something Get Active Shaw Initiative). This alone tells us that GYSD isn’t just one more of those “big city” things that never seem to make it out to folks like us. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. GYSD projects can take place anywhere.
One of the keys to the success of the programs is the committed sponsorship of community partners like State Farm Insurance Co., the Walt Disney Co., International Business Machines, the Sodexo Foundation and Deutsche Bank. Each year these partners enable YSA to fund more than $1 million in grants to support a range of beneficial activities.
The breadth of issues tackled by these motivated young people is astounding. Programs like the Great America Clean Up, Healthy Kids Day, World Malaria Day, Bake Sale for No Kid Hungry and Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s True Gentleman Day of Service, are just a few of the thousands of different focuses local groups have elected to take.
While we’re a little behind the scheduling curve for this year, the young people of Pine Bluff should seize this moment and start planning for next year. The GYSD website (www.gysd.org) has a trove of information about established programs we could emulate locally as well as ideas for new initiatives that we might also consider.
It’s no surprise that adults spend a lot of time talking about how things ought to be different here. If anyone has attended the monthly town hall meetings then you know that the kids are watching. Often they have summoned the courage to speak their minds. This is a good thing. It is something that we should encourage and promote.
Without advocating any particular religious or social agenda, a few words from the 1955 American Friends Service Committee bear repeating. In their seminal document, Speak Truth to Power, they state: “Our truth is an ancient one: that love endures and overcomes; that hatred destroys; that what is obtained by love is retained, but what is obtained by hatred proves a burden.”
We see that in spades, here in Pine Bluff. Examples of hate are all too plentiful. Sadly, most of the folks who bear the greatest cost are our young people. Fortunately, they are also the key to extricating all our futures from that sorry fate. All it takes are a few well-planned, goal-centered acts. Surely, we have that much in us.