Notre Dame students help give community youth a voice

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU)- Notre Dame students are partnering with local youth to help give them a voice in the community. It's a program that has nearly tripled in the last seven years.

The program is a class called Youth Empowerment, Literacy and Urban Landscapes. It's a 14 week course where students mentor our youth in fifth through 12th grades.

Molly Robinson is one of the students in the class working with T.J. Clowers, a student in seventh grade at the Career Academy. Robinson is a second semester senior studying Psychology.

"I just met T.J. today and he's awesome," she said. "He's working on his name right now."

Wednesday was the first meeting of the youth with college students. They all participated in a getting to know you activity, creatively writing their name and what they like about school.

"Something that I've learned this semester that I would have never experienced before is the learning that can come from being a part of the community and learning not from a textbook, but from experience and experiencing things first hand for yourself," Robinson said.

This is a lesson their professor is pushing for them to understand.

"We really try to make sure that both the university students and the young people from our community are having an opportunity to figure out what community looks like and feels like to them," said Maria McKenna, an associate professor at Notre Dame. "[The youth] are looking at communities and things that they are trying to stress about their communities to adults around them."

"They're certainly dealing with a lot of remnants of the violence and poverty and other things that are impacting the community so it's important to know that their voices matter and that they have a new way to explore their neighborhoods," said Dana Hess, the Executive Director of Neighborhood Resources Connection. "Their voices matter and it's important to be an engaged member of your community if you want to see change happen."

Clowers said this is a good chance to meet people who aren't in middle school.

"I kind of wanted to meet new people, but also I wanted to find out how to do things for neighborhoods," Clowers said.

Through arts and crafts, poetry and photography, the goal is to give our youth a voice.

"I want T.J. to learn that he can express himself and that people are listening to his voice because it really does matter," Robinson said. "I'm hoping to get to meet these kids and get to know their experiences and see if there is anything I can do with my life to help out."

The group will continue to meet Wednesday nights until April 25. They meet from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Near Northwest Neighborhood Community Center.

On their last day they will put together an exhibit to showcase everyone's photography and work to the community.

It's not too late to join if you are interested. You can learn more and register by following this link: http://www.nrc4neighborhoods.org/programs/engaging-youth-engaging-neighborhoods-program/.