The strength of our democracy, the vitality of our economy, and the emotional and physical wellbeing of our population start with our youth and a shared belief in a positive future. In order to build strong communities and realize our vision for a thriving economy, we must work together – youth and adults – to build the tools, support, and connections needed to establish and then realize educational, career, and life goals; effectively engage in the economy of today and of the future; and seize opportunities here in Vermont and beyond.
The above is a core principal in the work of the Future of Vermont Action Team this year. Here at the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD), we embarked on an ambitious initiative in 2020 to identify critical action points that, if addressed today, will position Vermont for success in the decades to come. We then built the Future of Vermont Action Team, a diverse group of leaders charged with taking action on each of the ten Vermont Proposition elements. This year, their work includes identifying concrete strategies to boost youth opportunity and aspiration. The Action Team launched the Youth Opportunity Initiative last month to bring together youth with community members, business owners, workforce development leaders, educators, parents, advocates, and more to ask: “what can Vermont youth and community members do together to better hear, understand, and support youth goals and aspirations for the future?”
A Youth Opportunity Advisory Group of youth leaders, educators, and other statewide business and community leaders has developed a deep engagement process including regional discussion forums, a statewide survey, youth-specific forums, and stakeholder interviews with key councils, organizations, and boards focused on youth, community, business, education equity, and workforce development. The Group will review findings at the end of the year and make actionable program and policy recommendations back to the Future of Vermont Action Team based on what they hear. Their goal is to hear from thousands of Vermonters in this process to find out what is possible and how Vermont can build a narrative of hope and possibility for the next generation.
Starting April 20 in the Upper Valley region, then May 23rd in the Northwest Region, and continuing in different regions across the state, VCRD will facilitate a series of community and youth forums and stakeholder interviews to provide a better understanding of the current landscape and strengthen opportunities for Vermont youth. When people come together in community, especially across backgrounds, ages, and perspectives, powerful ideas can emerge. We look forward to hearing about the bright spots today, the challenges we face together, and concrete actions for how we can build for the future.
Community members of the Upper Valley region are encouraged to attend to join the conversation for the first public forum on Thursday, April 20 at Oxbow High School in Bradford, VT from 6:00-7:30pm. The second forum will take place in St. Albans and cover the Northwest Region of the state on May 23. Details on these and future forums will be available at www.futureofvermont.org. For those that can’t make it to the in person forums, an input form is available on the website to share your ideas.
Jenna Koloski is the Community Engagement and Policy Director at the Vermont Council on Rural Development and lives in Huntington.