Including Youth Makes it More Fun!

Authored by: Denise Pilz, Executive Director

Norris’ original mission back in 1917 was to provide young men the opportunity to channel their energies in a positive and productive way by teaching them skills that would lead to meaningful employment rather than down a path of delinquency and crime.  Norris eventually evolved into a place where youth could also benefit from treatment services that addressed mental health, alcohol and other drug issues. What hasn’t changed is that we still maintain many activities that keep youth engaged in their living environment, education, recreation and community.  Norris feels strongly that when we include the youth in decisions about how they live, learn and stay focused on their goals, everyone benefits. Working in tandem with the youth builds connections, which is the core of what our work is all about. In the past several months, youth have participated in many activities around campus.  These are just a few examples:

  • Youth volunteered in a community event, Rumble By the River, where they helped build picnic tables, set up, sell tickets and clean up for the event
  • A burger competition where youth engaged in a teamwork activity to plan for, cook and present a burger (to include a theme) for a group of staff to judge
  • Flower and plant decorating to prepare for Norris’ 100th Anniversary celebration
  • A door decorating contest for Norris’ 100th Anniversary celebration that honored the history of Norris  
  • A chili cook-off where staff made the chili and the youth were engaged not only to taste each chili, but to be the judges of the chili
  • As part of their learning experience at Norris Academy, each student holds a “Who Am I Conference” to present to staff and peers what they know about themselves as a learner and what activities and interests will help them meet their educational goals
  • Youth have been employed part-time by community businesses to provide employment experiences they can add to their resume
  • Youth participated in the On the Table event that Norris hosted – this event consisted of Norris staff and community members who engaged in conversations about how to strengthen our community and modeled for the youth that “your voice matters.”
  • Norris is also in the process of updating the living spaces for the youth and they will have input into many different decisions such as colors, equipment and furniture

These activities may seem like small things to us but when we are responsible for the care of youth that have had very little say or predictability in their lives, these small things can make all the difference in validating their self-worth.  Norris views our large campus as “their” home – we are just the visitors that show up each day to ensure they are receiving the best care possible and provide the opportunities to help them meet their goal of returning to their families and the larger community. In the end, I have learned more from the youth than they have probably learned from me! How many of us get to say we have an opportunity to learn something new every day from the lens of a young person who may view the world very differently than we do?

So the next time you pick up a hammer or go grocery shopping, think about whether there is an opportunity to teach a child a new skill toward independence.  If you have skills and hobbies that you would like to share, please visit our Volunteer Page to learn more about how you can make a positive impact in the lives of youth.