What Makes a Community a Good Place to Live in?

Basket Beginnings - From the Resource Basket Blog

“What makes a community a good place to live in?”

This question was posed to a diverse panel of rural Alaska Native youth (ages 16-24) at a 2013 stakeholder meeting for a new resource center to support Alaska’s tribes supporting their youth. How can resources be identified or created to help young peoples’ lives thrive and succeed, without hearing from youth themselves?

The strands of The Resource Basket began weaving together on Valentine’s Day in Anchorage at this gathering to address how rural communities love and support their youth. Sixty stakeholders, some traveling far to participate, others sacrificing a day from work or family, opened their hearts to reflect on what’s working and what’s missing in rural Alaska to contribute to healthy, successful and culturally-connected Alaska Native youth.

The day’s conversations and declarations have informed and shaped this new resource hub. We are an online community to gather and share tools, stories, information and updates to support rural Alaska Native youth. This site also connects tribes and youth-serving organizations with training and technical assistance [link to request page], provided by Rural CAP and Partners (funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention).

Powerful words were spoken during the February 14th Network meeting by rural and urban community members, providers and by the youth panel. Attendees discussed positive youth development, juvenile delinquency prevention and healthy communities. They are words to share and repeat.

And so, to answer the opening question, “What makes a community a good place to live in?,” the panel of eight diverse Alaska Native youth offered these worthy perspectives:

  • Knowing there is support
  • Positive adult role models, mentors and leaders who live healthy lifestyles
  • More culture awareness and teachings, including language
  • Place in school where we can learn from the Elders
  • Things to do, that we enjoy, like sharing subsistence activities
  • Having safe places to meet (like a teen center), a place where you feel welcomed, kids are supported and encouraged
  • Exposure to the outside world; help us see our life options and choices, and opportunities to meet with people who do those things
  • Need to have more treatment and resources for people who want help

They also openly spoke about their lives.

Who do you go to in your community for support?

  • People I know: teachers, healthy (sober) family members, Elders, positive peers, clergy, extracurricular advisors and adults who have more experience
  • Someone I’m comfortable with; I know they care, I can trust them, who understands my frustrations
  • “I didn’t have anyone to talk to because my family was going through their own thing, so I had to talk to myself.”

What should adults do to help youth become successful & healthy?

  • Provide a healthy and stable household
  • Parents should put their kids first, before themselves
  • Be there for our activities like basketball, NYO or other events
  • Show love and discipline if something wrong is done, encourage us to keep going
  • Support our education. Encourage self-discipline and speaking our Native language
  • Encourage involvement in positive activities; tell us about alcohol, drugs, birth control, healthy eating
  • Take us hunting, fishing and other subsistence activities
  • Support other parents and families – it makes it a lot easier for everyone!

Recommendations for rural programs to support youth

  • Staff should be more understanding, instead of just yelling. Help us understand what we did wrong; what makes it wrong? Teach us how to be more responsible
  • Be more encouraging, don’t limit us
  • Provide a safe space, welcoming for little kids and teens. No one program fits everyone; find out our interests (not everyone is an athlete!). Help us with school, mental health, include technology, and offer arts, outside activities, culture camps, career fairs, summer jobs
  • Expose us to people of different backgrounds, professions. Help us network with successful native and non-native people so we have a broader perspective
  • Sponsor multiple leadership and mentoring opportunities. Let us lead activities, organize, teach, etc.
  • Host intergenerational gatherings to help us learn more about our culture, teach language, and host weekly community potlucks

These insights are our collective mandate; what we can all strive for and achieve. The Resource Basket is available to help us keep rural Alaska a strong and positive place for our youth; a place with love and strength. We welcome you to join and fill our basket with successes, and take what you need along the way. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.