Research tells us that engaging out of school time learning opportunities are a necessary part of a well-rounded childhood. Children spend only a fraction of their hours in school and need nourishing, challenging, and fun activities to fill in the balance. My audacious idea is to map all of the opportunities that currently exist for Baltimore’s young people, and to invite youth to lead the process.
Young people could quantify and map electronically all of the activities, programs, and resources that are available for children and youth, outside of school. With the completed map, youth and their caregivers would know where resources exist and be able to access them. Advocates, policy makers, and youth services providers would know where the gaps in service are so they could work to address them. Involving youth in the process of mapping fosters their engagement with the city in which they live, and will help make sure that the final results are shaped and presented in a way that reflects a youth perspective on what the resources and opportunities are.
A group of YouthWorks students working with Baltimore’s Safe and Sound Campaign will begin work on the Baltimore Opportunity Map (BOM) this summer by mapping at least 500 youth-serving organizations They will do the research by internet and telephone, and they will be out canvassing neighborhoods to capture the opportunities in person. The Mappers will build on Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s new Youth B’More site (www.youthbmore.org), which provides an online catalog of organized youth activities for Summer 2010. As each resource is added to the database, an organizational contact number and email address will be attached, so that over time, these individuals can be contacted for updates, ensuring that the data stays fresh and accurate.
Please look out for the Baltimore Opportunity Mappers and be generous with the information you share. With your help, they will create a comprehensive and accessible map of the resources for youth that exist in our city. Strong community participation is necessary at many levels to ensure success: accurate data about available opportunities is critically important, as is ensuring that youth and caregivers know about and use this resource over time.
Maps show us where we have come from, and they allow us to visualize where we could be going. With a good map, and the skills to use it, anyone can go just about anywhere. Without a map, the road taken is often harder, longer, and less direct. Baltimore’s children deserve a good map, dense with opportunities, to get them safely to their chosen destinations.