When a New Orleans nonprofit asked local young people to build to a Web site mapping community resources they learned a lot more than technical skills.
Twenty one-year-old New Orleans native Nathaniel Jackson is working his way through college, holding down a restaurant job and helping run a new, online community resource called NOLAYouthMap.org. Ask Nathaniel what you can find at his site, and he goes on for a bit.
“Everything actually,” he says. “Bully prevention, childcare services, colleges, dating, drug prevention, education resources, faith-based resources, family, food, foster care.”
And he goes on.
“Health, housing, immigration, suicide prevention,” he says.
And there’s more.
“Job search, volunteer opportunities, teen parent information, internships. Anything you need, actually, anything you need,” he says.
If Nathaniel sounds proud of the robust content on NOLAYouthMap.org, there’s good reason. He is part of the team of local young people who built the site expressly for other youth, and those who serve them. NOLAYouthMap,org is a new project from the Partnership for Youth Development, a local nonprofit that works with the full spectrum of after-school and summer programs in the metro area, helping them provide better experiences for local kids.
Eric Jensen is the group’s director of youth engagement, and he says NOLAYouthMap.org started as an effort to connect young people and families with this growing, ever-changing realm of resources available to them.
“We recruited over 70 young people from the city of New Orleans, trained them in community mapping skills and we hit the streets,” Jensen says.
They collected data, which is all now searchable by interest or by neighborhood using familiar Google mapping technology. So, for instance, someone looking for summer camp information – always a hot topic for kids and families – can find detailed, up-to-date profiles on what’s available and how to get involved. The site is helpful for anyone looking for community resources, and local groups can submit their own information to ensure they’re included. Just as importantly, though, the project has also been a big boost for the youth who run it.
“It wasn’t just about mapping resources in the city, it was about investing into a group of young people to care about their community,” Eric says. “What this project is, really at the heart, is a community engagement strategy. We’re investing into a group of young people to become new community advocates, to become resources for their friends, to become resources for their families. So we were creating 70 community resource experts in the city.”
The Partnership for Youth Development is developing a smart phone app for NOLAYouthMap.org, to give more young people access to its opportunities. For Nathaniel Jackson, working on the site has already been an opportunity to put his skills to the test and show what he can accomplish.
“I’ve always been a computer head,” he says. “The only thing that was different for me was learning how to manage the web site. Everything else was there, the professionalism, the way that you handle yourself, how you carry yourself accordingly, all of that was already there. But the maintaining the site was the biggest thing and I feel good about that now.”