Youth Town Hall Project
In 2005, WILL aired the PBS documentary entitled Country Boys. This documentary caught the attention of area organizations and community residents, as Hoopeston leaders saw their youth reflected in the Country Boys Documentary, a story of small-town young people searching for identity and opportunity. The setting for the documentary was a rural
WILL AM-FM-TV and Prairie Center Health Systems saw this documentary as a tool to reach at risk youth in Hoopeston. This was the beginning of an ongoing partnership between WILL,
The goal of the Youth Town Hall Project was to identify the concerns and struggles of the youth, let the youth of Hoopeston be heard, equip youth as leaders, and give them a voice in community decision making. Residents recognized Hoopeston’s young people were falling between the educational and economic cracks of limited employment and opportunity. Adult leaders met regularly for one year to identify solutions to these problems. It was then decided to involve the youth in the process and let them lead this initiative, with the thought in mind that they would be more likely to be active contributors of the community if their ideas were valued by the adults in Hoopeston.The 13 youth involved then surveyed 220 of their peers to identify issues of concern among the Hoopeston youth. The surveys brought to light issues and concerns among the youth in Hoopeston such as, students dropping out of school, unemployment, underachievement in school, issues with drugs and alcohol, and a lack of involved adults in the lives of the youth. These 13 youth were then trained to facilitate community discussions around segments from the Country Boys series and present their finding from the surveys conducted. With support from WILL, Youth leaders created and distributed announcements, recruited business leaders, and facilitated a town hall meeting spotlighting youth and brainstorming with the community to address youth needs.
Fifty Six adults attended the meeting to hear the youths’ concerns and work with them to create solutions to the identified needs. Several needs were identified as a result of these meetings. The greatest need was the need to match caring and qualified adults with children in a one-on-one in-school and after-school mentoring relationship. Statistics show that a consistent and on-going one-on-one mentoring relationship helps keep kids in school, improves grades and decreases their likelihood of using drugs and alcohol. The other need identified was for youth to be involved in community decision making and activities.