United Way youth program to promote trust and civility

New London ― United Way of Southeastern Connecticut is launching a new program for high school students in partnership with New London Youth Affairs.

The program, Your Voice Counts, aims to help local high school students listen to and understand the diverse perspectives expressed by people outside of their family and friends, United Way said in a press release.

The NLYA was selected by a volunteer review committee to be the first agency to work with local youth and was awarded a $10,000 grant.

NLYA aims to accept 15 students and will use public forums, advertising and partnerships to promote young adult ideas and examples to the public.

“On behalf of the teenagers we serve, the staff at New London Youth Affairs are excited about this new venture in implementing the Your Voice Counts project,” said Ellen Kleckner, NLYA Youth Services Coordinator in a statement from hurry. “It’s a great opportunity for young people to get involved in issues that directly affect their lives.”

The program was inspired by a group of community members that includes Harry White, Steve White, John Perry and Rich Cole, who approached United Way in early 2022 and now serve as the program’s steering committee.

The committee held listening sessions with community groups and individuals, and noticed a need for young people to develop the skills to engage in civic discourse and help create real and lasting change.

“It is a privilege to work with such knowledgeable United Way and Steering Committee colleagues with broad and deep experience,” White said in the press release. “YVC is a unique opportunity to protect and strengthen democracy.”

YVC’s goal is to strengthen and encourage civic engagement, which naturally involves young people in the democratic process.

The program combines five features to achieve this goal: a focus on high school juniors’ personal planning and influence on others; partnerships with organizations that know the extracurricular potential of young people; training in conflict management, listening and critical thinking to enable respectful and productive communication; scholarships, competitions and awards to motivate students and promote their ideas; and a plan to design the program and assessments to enable future replication of YVC

The program aims to help young adults develop critical thinking skills for “autonomous life journeys beyond the comfort zones of like-minded family and friends.” The goal is for program participants to assess issues with confidence and understand how to express their own opinions while listening to those of others.

“This program is about providing young people with the skills to navigate conversations that often lead to divisiveness,” said Dina Sears-Graves, president and CEO of United Way of Southeastern Connecticut. “It will help make the world a more welcoming place, which will contribute to a more positive community.”

“Children are the future and Centraide is committed to supporting young people in our community so that they reach their full potential,” she added.


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