title: city kids: growing up SAFE, SKILLED, STRONG…
what: the CityKids Foundation is located in New York. Keith Haring, one the world’s most famous graffiti artists, painted their logo, a stylised graffiti-art sign with bright red kids raising joyful fists over a cityscape. The office walls are decorated with murals painted by other internationally recognised artists. The fact that such wonderful art is part of the everyday CityKids experience is, by itself, affirming. These valuable walls are not in museums or in the most privileged of private homes – they surround the daily activity of regular kids in New York City who are learning to use their art and their lives to change the world.
why:CityKids was founded in 1985 by president emeritus Laurie Meadoff, built “on a simple but powerful premise: if you bring together young people from different racial, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds and challenge them to develop their own solutions, they will respond with energy, imagination and commitment".
CityKids aims to engage and develop diverse young people to positively impact on their lives, their communities and the world. The organisation accomplishes this mission through programs that help young people ages 13 to 19 to use their voices for positive change.
how teenagers learn to improve their own educational status, become agents for social change, take action in community projects, and carry positive messages to their peers. And they have a great time doing it.
At its core, CityKids focuses on the ‘survival of kids’ through different programmes. “Coalition – a Laboratory for Ideas” exists to bring together young people from diverse backgrounds – kids who would not normally have the chance to meet – and provide them with a Safe Space® to learn leadership skills; explore cultural, racial and sexual issues, and speak their minds on personal and global issues such as violence, self-esteem, education, family, health and environmental awareness.
In the course of the weekly discussions, youth are trained to use techniques developed by the Foundation to brainstorm ideas, plan courses of action, facilitate grassroots organising, learn conflict management techniques and, in essence, learn a process to carry an idea to an action-oriented conclusion. “CityKids Repertory” (Rep) functions as the Foundation’s voice. Rep members take ideas that emerge from CityKids programs and transform them into original, issue-based material in the form of poetry, drama, music, song, and dance. Along with training in the performing arts, the young people involved in Rep receive leadership and life-skills training.
CityKids Rep performs in a wide range of local and national venues, from public schools to homeless hotels to national television programs, reaching millions of their peers each year. “CityKids in Action” (CKIA) is a ten-week training program that prepares youth as workshop facilitators on a variety of youth issues including prejudice, violence, self-esteem, relationships, teen pregnancy prevention and more.
the city to kids: while adults tend to design most youth programs and are always well-meaning and concerned, CityKids design its own programs. Through focus groups held in schools and community centres, CityKids have frequent conversations with their peers about what they need to feel safe, skilled, strong and supported. They report their findings to adults who work with them within the context of the organisation’s mission and vision. These adults provide the youth with the resources required to design programs that meet their needs. All programs are piloted first to determine how well they work.