I’m not dead, honest. Tomorrow is my last day at the Health Department so I’ve been busily finishing up a lot of stuff for my presentations next week about what I’ve been doing here this summer.
For those of you who don’t know (and I’m sure that might be most of you since I haven’t written anything in at least a month), this summer I’ve been working on a project looking at external developmental assets for the youth population of Gloucester. “What in the world is that?” I hear you ask in your heads, well I’ll tell you.
Developmental assets are positive experiences and personal qualities that young people encounter and have that help them grow up to become healthy, caring, responsible adults. Some of these assets include family and community support, positive communication, feeling that the community values them as youth, the community using them as a resource, set boundaries and positive expectations from family, teacher and other adults, being active in the arts, community clubs, sports and church, commitment to learning, positive values and identity and skills that help them become socially competent.
Many of these types of assets originallly were a part of the community as a whole but now that the idea of “community” is not what it used to be, many people are starting to realize that the assets are vital for healthy growth.
Gloucester is no different from any other community. Gloucester originally was a very closely knit immigrant town who were primarily made up of Italians (and yes we have already found our favorite place to eat in town). People used to literally share the parenting in the community as family lived really close together and everyone knew everyone else. The current trend has been a shift away from a large community network of people sharing the parenting towards an isolation down to the single nuclear family unit. A combination of this and the loss of the fishing industry that has kept this town afloat for several hundred years has caused a collapse of any vestige of assets that the community had.
For my project, I decided to look for external assets, which are things that could be easily identified by community members like “neighbors taking responsibility for youth behavior in their neighborhood” and “what kinds of activities are youth mostly involved with in the community if any.” I made a list of the assets that I was looking for and went out to sixteen different sites to interview people who worked with youth about the assets.
Next week I will be giving two presentations about my finidings; one for the community and one for my internship graduation ceremony. It’s not a pretty sight here in Gloucester. Most of my questions were either answered negatively or as “it depends.” While it is what I was expecting to find after some of the other projects that I’ve done for school, it is still discouraging to find that the spreading decay of the community of years past has left no area untouched.
The most sad thing that I learned was that there has been a real disconnect with the Christian community in particular. It was told to me that about 10% of the youths were Christian and that of them 50% go to church. Let me give you some numbers so you can put that in perspective. In the 2000 census there were 1661 youth between the ages of 15 and 19. Which means that 166 of them were Christian and only 83 of them go to church. And that doesn’t even mean that they go regularly either. What a lot of work we have cut out for us here.
I am really interested in trying to build the assets of both Gloucester and Rockport. I hope that my first step will happen next week when I present to the community. I think my next step will be to try and connect with the other churches on Cape Ann, including other denominations, because if we really want to make a change I believe it should start with the church. Christ is the only one who can change a heart and a community not some human attempt to change a deeply seated human problem. Only God is capable of helping Gloucester have a lasting change for the better of all the community not just the youth.