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Dave Olson, Published August 14 2012

Venture Youth Alliance's 'community blueprint’ aims to help children realize potential

MOORHEAD – Young people who participate in activities outside of school do better in life.

It’s really that simple, according to Rebecca Saito, a senior research associate with the Center for Youth Development at the University of Minnesota.

What isn’t so simple?

Getting out the word about what activities are available to kids and then getting kids there, Saito said Tuesday at a Venture Youth Alliance event in Moorhead, where alliance organizers unveiled a “community blueprint” aimed at helping young people achieve their potential.

The blueprint was created with the help of area young people, a group of whom began working in June to map kid-friendly areas, neighborhood resources and the availability of transportation to get kids to activities.

Saito, who worked with students on the mapping project, said five major barriers to successful participation in activities were identified and she listed them in descending order:

• Lack of awareness of existing opportunities.

• Cost of activities.

• Jobs that kept kids from activities.

• Responsibilities at home.

• Transportation.

Saito said when studies in the Twin Cities showed similar results, officials there set up a youth bus from areas that didn’t offer activities to places that did.

The program had 7,000 riders its first year, according to Saito.

Karen Olson, Venture Youth Alliance coordinator, said there are more than 46,000 people under the age of 18 in the Fargo-Moorhead area and “they all have needs.”

She said as part of the alliance blueprint, a number of youth leaders will act as diplomats of sorts at their respective middle and high schools and work on influencing fellow students to participate in activities.

Peter Saintal, a senior at Fargo North High School, told alliance organizers and a group of young people gathered at the Bluestem Center for the Arts that his parents, who came to the United States as refugees from Haiti, impressed upon him the importance of establishing relationships.

“My parents always told me that if I wanted to have friends, I’d have to be willing to go out there and try to talk to kids I barely knew,” Saintal said.

Though born in the United States, Saintal said when he was younger he did not yet have a command of English and the thought of talking to strangers terrified him.

Nonetheless, on the night before his first day of school he stayed up for hours practicing what he would say to people the next day: “Hi, my name is Peter” and “Hi, nice to meet you.”

The next morning, he got to his classroom long before his fellow students, and as others arrived, he greeted each at the door.

“Before I knew it, I had memorized everybody’s name in my whole class,” Saintal said.

“Since that day,” he added, “I’ve learned that if you greet someone with a warm, welcome smile all else will follow.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555