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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Annandale stakeholders to develop youth engagement initiative

A group of Annandale stakeholders—including community and business leaders—is being formed to develop an action plan for a youth engagement initiative in Annandale. In a separate but related effort, a series of focus group meetings has been scheduled to elicit the opinions of various ethnic groups on “livability” issues in Annandale.

Those efforts build on the Annandale “dialogues on diversity” held during 2010-12 at Annandale High School, which were facilitated by the Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services (NCS).

The need to get young people more involved in civic life was one of the key issues that emerged from those dialogues, says Norma Lopez, a community developer with the NCS. A group of stakeholders, called the Annandale Roundtable, that was formed to continue those discussions,  decided to create a community planning group (CPG) on youth engagement.
The CPG is a partnership of NCS, the Fairfax County Police Department, and key community stakeholders. Its first meeting will be Dec. 6.

CPG members are expected to include Rev. Clarence Brown, the senior pastor at Annandale United Methodist Church; Annandale High School Principal Vincent Randazzo; Capt. Gun Lee, commander of the Mason Police Station; Maj. Michael Kline, commander of the Division III Patrol Bureau in the Police Department; Frank Blechman, a consultant and retired George Mason University professor; Due Tran of the Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce; and Annandale property owner Steve Lee. Many of those people are also on the Annandale Roundtable, and both groups will work closely together.

The CPG is also expected to include a couple of school resource officers, a middle school counselor, and others. Randazzo has been asked to designate a student to co-chair the group. The other co-chair hasn’t been determined.

A key issue for the group is how to get the children of immigrants and disadvantaged youths more civically engaged, Lopez says. Members of the CPG will need to determine whether they want to focus on at-risk youths or all youths, whether they want to provide more service learning opportunities, and whether they want to get youths more involved in existing programs or create new ones.

According to Lopez, the CPG  “represents an opportunity to stimulate and coalesce community energies, interests, and resources in a collective response. Community buy-in and ownership is essential.” And, she says, the group should represent diverse cultures along with “a balance of perspectives, opinions, expertise, and skills.” Participants must live, work, or worship in Annandale.

The other problem that surfaced frequently during the “dialogues on diversity” is what Lopez describes as “livability issues,” which covers such things as code compliance, traffic safety, and communication across cultures. For example, there have been conflicts in neighborhoods when immigrants have different perspectives on property maintenance, and community associations have struggled with ways to reach out to increasingly diverse populations. The overriding goal is to come up with ways to increase civic participation, Lopez says.

To begin to address those issues, NCS has organized a series of focus groups for people from various cultures: Latinos, Koreans, Vietnamese, Muslims, whites/Caucasians, and African Americans/blacks. The groups, with six to 10 people each, will meet in December and January. Lopez says people will feel more comfortable speaking to people from their own cultures than in a mixed setting.

After the focus groups meet, NCS will prepare a report summarizing the perspectives of the various groups and present the results to the Annandale Roundtable. “A lot of good things can come out of this,” Lopez says.

1 comment:

  1. I think this is a great idea but if you want the kids to become more involved you need their parents to become more involved. You need volunteers to head up activities and the volunteers in Annandale already do more than they can handle.