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YTECH Programs Use Digital Literacy Skills to Empower Young People to Take Action In Their Communities

Kids from the Seattle United NHBD’s Night Out prog pose for a photo booth pict.

YTECH digital literacy and civic engagement programs served 271 young people in the summer months of 2011. Each young person gained digital literacy skills while working as a team to learn about a social issue, connect online and in person with community leaders, create digital media and take action in their communities. YTECH is program of the Metrocenter branch of the YMCA of Greater Seattle.

“Armed with hard skills, access to technology and a forum for expression and action, we can create the next generation of employable, engaged, skilled civic participants,” said Chris Tugwell, YTECH director.

Fifteen high-school aged youth from a workforce development program in the city participated in a seven-week internship with YTECH and formed Seattle United Neighborhoods to tackle neighborhood-specific problems.

“We used photos to tell stories and reflect on issues around Seattle that needed to be changed,” said Chi Nguyen, 19. One of Chi’s projects was a photo essay that addressed a lack of lighting on the streets surrounding her house. Chi and other project participants shared their media and concerns with Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien. After the meeting, Chi was able to take necessary steps to fix the lighting on her street.

“Youth voice is important because people listen. It’s not everyday you see a kid speaking out, so Councilmember O’Brien encouraged us to keep it up,” said Kidist Mengitsu, 17.

"The council members need to hear our young voices if they would like to hear what really matters,” said Ephraim Nelson, 15, “it will help prepare for the future and with that, we can make the new generation better.”

As their capstone Take Action project, Seattle United Neighborhoods planned a successful night out event in South Seattle “to give young people something to do.”

"We did lots of blogging and community outreach. I learned that young people can change the community and make it a better world,” said Jordan Chambers, 16.

Jordan and other YTECH participants use Puget SoundOff.org, a local social networking site focused on social issues, to share their digital media creations, blog and connect with their peers. Puget SoundOff.org is funded in part by the City of Seattle’s Information Technology Department.

"These young people were able to use their creativity and digital media skills to spread awareness about issues that matter most to them, empowering them to choose issues they care about as they become adults.Having an outlet for young people to voice opinions is the best way to engage the next generation in making our communities a better place,” said Colleen McDevitt, YTECH digital literacy instructor.

YTECH is part of Washington state’s Communities Connect Network, a Broadband Technology Opportunity Program grant recipient for 2010-2012. BTOP funds made it possible for YTECH to expand its equipment inventory of laptops and cameras and travel outside of the city limits to offer digital literacy trainings.

"To bridge the digital divide, to be competitive and keep up with our changing economy, we must guide young people in using technology. They must be encouraged to engage in online environments and to create their own pieces of digital media,” said Roni Ayalla, YTECH project coordinator.

Follow more of YTECH’s work at youthandtech.wordpress.com.

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