YPG hosted nearly 60 non-profit organizations at a Community Service Fair at City Hall last summer, bringing hundreds of volunteers into contact with the organizations that need them most. The group has also formed a partnership with the Clay Elementary School in Hyde Park to renovate a historic building adjacent to the School for the Clay Community Education Center, a much-needed performing arts center for students and the community. And last August YPG hosted the third annual National Deliberation Day in St. Louis to engage young adults in non-partisan citizen discussion of the vital issues facing their generation.
In addition to the leadership and policy initiatives created by and for young adults, numerous area cultural institutions are tapping into this emerging group through “young friends” groups. The first young friends group of a cultural institution to be established was the Young Friends of the Saint Louis Art Museum, founded in 1994 and presently 650-members strong.
“The Young Friends Group was really created for three reasons,” says Jim Krekeler, chairman of the Young Friends of the Art Museum: “to make the Museum more accessible and approachable for young people, to utilize the abilities and energy of young individuals in order to increase the visibility and attendance of the Museum, and to raise funds, through the Young Friends Art Purchase Fund.” The Young Friends hold four events each year geared toward achieving those objectives, and have already purchased one work of art with funds raised from events.
And one of the most effective aspects of the young people’s movement is the collective spirit and effort of the groups. “It’s vital for young people to get involved in the civic life of the city,” says Melanie Adams, co-chair of YPG and a former steering-committee member of Metropolis. “Whether it’s through a church or one of the many organizations available to young people, the key is involvement.” Adams recently helped to organize The Collaboration, an informal association of a number of young leaders from organizations that meet once every six months “to talk about common issues and to provide other groups with upcoming programming in order to prevent scheduling conflicts,” Adams says.
A number of these groups are in fact collaborating: last May the Young Friends groups of The Saint Louis Art Museum, the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (known as the Operators) and the Arts and Education Council (known as the Associates Board) hosted more than 700 people at a party called Celebrate the Arts, which raised $18,000 for the three arts organizations. “The success of Celebrate the Arts is a concrete example of the benefits yielded through the involvement and commitment of young people to cultural endeavors within our community,” Krekeler says.
As young adults gain entry into the community, there’s an increasing need to train them for stronger leadership roles. In response to that need, last January Metropolis St. Louis founded a leadership initiative entitled the Metropolis Forum. Meridith McKinley, director of the Metropolis Forum, says the program is responding to a need within the community. “We are here to stimulate thought and encourage action. The Metropolis Forum is designed to equip young people with knowledge and skills that will be marketable in the civic arena, whether it be within the realm of board involvement or the development of independent projects.”
Through a grant from the Danforth Foundation, and with training and guidance from the Coro Midwestern Center and Focus St. Louis, the Metropolis Forum offers Seminars Series and Project Workshops designed to engage and encourage young people in interaction about issues that affect the community.
The Forum has hosted “Orientation to St. Louis” seminars on city government, civic organizations and race relations, and will host a seminar on entrepreneurship this month. In conjunction with the “Orientation to St. Louis” series, during alternating months, the Forum hosts Leadership Skills Seminars that have ranged in focus from meeting and project management to media training; in November the Forum will present a seminar on effective decision making.
The Metropolis Forum also administers Project Development Workshops where, in a three- to six-month, part-time program, 16 young people develop their skills in an applied setting doing a project that creates positive change for downtown St. Louis. The members of the first Project Workshop on downtown living have created an on-line resource for people seeking housing downtown; the Project Workshop currently underway focuses on sustainable neighborhoods.
“The city of St. Louis is tremendously lucky to have so many young people who are optimistic about the future and hungry for the chance to make a difference,” McKinley says. “We firmly believe the committed action of young people will produce positive change for our city.”
Young Professional Groups
There are a number of young people’s organizations already established in St. Louis with a variety of goals, and more are cropping up each year. The following list is a sampling of groups, — not mentioned in this article — all of which are open to the public:
- NetSAP: The Network of South Asian Professionals was founded in 1998 as a service and networking organization for young professionals of South Asian (India, Pakistan and surrounding countries) descent. Current membership: 100. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Young Lawyers Division of BAMSL: The Bar Association’s organization for lawyers who are under 36 or have practiced less than five years. Serves as a service and networking organization; this year’s theme is “The Spirit of Volunteerism.” Current membership: 2,400. Go to: www.bamsl.org
- Black fraternities and sororities: Nine historically black fraternities and sororities have local chapters with graduate membership divisions open to the general public. These chapters serve predominantly as social, service and community action organizations. Contact: email@example.com
- Young Professionals Division of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis: The YPD is a committee that strives to connect Jewish adults in their 20s and 30s with the Jewish community and to further volunteer and charitable giving careers of young people. Current membership: 2,000. Contact: Dana Spector at firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Young Zoo Friends: The Young Zoo Friends has recently been created to provide social and volunteer opportunities for young professionals and community leaders dedicated to the continued and future success of the Zoo. A kick-off party for the group will be held November 19th. Go to: www.stlzoo.org
- The Operators: The young faction of Opera Theatre of St. Louis supporters, the Operators were founded in 1994 and are now 150 members strong. The group serves to encourage young people to come to the Opera, to support the arts in St. Louis, and to glean a new audience for opera in the future. Contact: Christy Fox at email@example.com
Cindy Teasdale is a St. Louis-based free-lance writer.