The young and the restless: Civic seeks to increase youth engagement

Getting involved: The Madison-Marine-Homecrest Civic Association hosted a panel of young, civic-minded professionals at their meeting on June 21 to discuss how the community can get young people more involved in local issues.
Community News Group / Adam Lucente

They want to turn disaffected teens into civically engaged young people.

Young educators, civil servants and local activists encouraged Southern Brooklynites to find ways to get more of their peers engaged in community affairs at a panel hosted by the Madison-Marine-Homecrest Civic Association on June 21. One recent graduate and staffer for Councilman Chaim Deutsch (D–Madison) said there needs to be more youth-directed outreach about civic associations, community boards and other way they can get involved.

“The best way to get students involved is through education,” said Jack Plushnick. “If they aren’t aware of community groups, you can’t expect them to be involved.”

The four panelists included Plushnick, James Madison High School principal Jodie Cohen, staffer for Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D–Madison) Lovelie Tejada, and Sheepshead Bites founder-turned media consultant Ned Burke. Madison-Marine-Homecrest Civic Association president Ed Jaworski invited them to discuss ways of increasing youth engagement with local civic issues. Bergen Beach Civic Association president Michael Benjamin moderated the discussion, which more than 50 people gathered to see.

Much of the talk focused on getting students more active in the community. Cohen pointed out that her high school now requires students to complete 50 hours of community service before graduation, which she said is benefitting them.

“They’re being accepted into better colleges cause they have the whole package,” said Cohen.

Cohen said that this type of benefit of serving the community needs to be presented to children earlier on in life to ward off the self-absorption which can come with adolescence.

“Students need to be exposed at a younger age to what it means to be selfless,” she said. “Many teens are selfish, and they can’t see the end game.”

One reason even politically active young people are less interested in community affairs, according to Plushnick, who recently graduated from Brooklyn College, is because their civic education and political discussions usually focus on the national and geopolitical level, and students need to be made aware how politics effects them in their own neighborhoods.

“A lot of political science focuses on the national and international, not local,” said Plushnick. “We need to bring local topics into the classroom.”

People in the audience asked about the civics education young people are getting nowadays, and one woman suggested the association frame the topic of potholes to kids as something that affects them on their bicycles.

Jaworski said he was pleased with the talk, and that it made progress in increasing human interaction in a technology-dominated age.

“So many people are used to sitting in front of their machines rather than getting out and relating to people,” he said. “That’s a nut we gotta crack.”

Reach reporter Adam Lucente at or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @Adam_Lucente.

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