Guest Blogger – Elizabeth Brown on the 2011 Youth Summit

Fairfield Youth Summit 2011 Report

On Saturday morning, participants in Fairfield’s first Annual Youth Summit were greeted at the door with fresh orange juice, an assortment of Everybody’s banana bread, Chief Appanoose mini-popcorn, and award-winning Prairie Breeze cheese from Milton Creamery. Fast-forward 30 minutes, and the 45 high school and college students, young entrepreneurs, local business owners, and community members were on their feet and brainstorming for potential summer projects that would utilize Fairfield’s unique community assets and talent pool. 

 Why not line the Jefferson County trail system with local art made out of materials from the new Habitat Re-Store? And why not partner high school art students with local elementary students to create that art? And if the art is there, why not include it on the Art Walk this summer? Since people are already on the trail, why not extend the trail system to the Abundance Eco-Village to make the renewable energy systems being utilized available as educational tools for high school science classes? 

 Or how about organizing a soup kitchen that serves meals made from fresh, locally-grown ingredients so that children who wouldn’t otherwise have access to healthy meal choices can benefit from the strong local foods movement Fairfield has built? What if children actually helped prepare the meals? 

 Wouldn’t it be great if the reservoir became a venue for a summer concert series. And why not utilize materials from the Habitat Re-Store to build the stage? What if Fairfield’s youth actually helped to build the stage with the Fairfield Musicians Club available to organize concerts featuring local young musicians throughout the summer? These were just a handful of the dozens of ideas that came to the surface after an asset-quilting exercise facilitated by event co-organizer, Burt Chojnowski. 

The Summit continued with reports of projects already underway. Troy Van Beek of Ideal Energy spoke about a weatherization project his company Ideal Energy worked on with high school students this fall. He urged the group to think about the rapidly growing green jobs sector that could create a resurgence of the entrepreneurial spirit for which Fairfield is known. 

 Iowa City high school student, Eleanor Marshall, explained the Summer of Solutions project she’s helping to organize at her high school and invited Fairfield students to help find ways to expand the program to Fairfield. Summer of Solutions is a national organization powered by high school and college students as well as recent graduates all over the country. The program developed as a way to get high school and college age students dedicated to “making tomorrow a better day.” By working with the University of Iowa, the City of Iowa City, local citizen groups, and businesses and community leaders, the group hopes to build a vision of sustainability for Iowa City. 

 Scott Morris explained the Hometown Hero Rewards Program (HH) as an innovative program to help facilitate support community initiatives. His vision is for HH to become the “stitches” of Fairfield's "asset quilt." Some of the main efforts Scott sees HH working toward is to develop affordable housing, encourage community gardening, and increase mentorship programs for youth; open community meetings to foster a more “healthy, fun, and sustainable Fairfield” will be held. 

 Local musician Theo Shier spoke up about the need for safe a haven for young musicians to explore their talent. It’s widely known that Fairfield is fertile ground for artists and Shier feels that an organized and consistent mentorship program through which young musicians would learn performance technique and gain confidence could help keep Fairfield’s finest young musicians in Fairfield. The idea of offering start-up business classes to interested musicians and artists was also introduced.

 Ideas from the original summit created momentum towards a summer youth entrepreneurship program in Fairfield in collaboration with the University of Iowa Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship and the Fairfield Entrepreneurs Association. Microenterprise funding has been organized by Fairfield First. 

Encouragement and support for entrepreneurs at any stage is crucial to their success, especially among youth. Through the creation of peer-to-peer support networks and the publicity generated by being a part of this program, Fairfield First! hopes to facilitate this exciting conversation and to help implement the recommendations from Saturday’s participants. The original goal of the Youth Summit was for people to generate new ideas about how Fairfield could continue to grow as a mecca for young people. “We already have so many resources at our disposal, it’s just a matter of lining up unmet needs with underutilized resources,” said Scott Morris, and that’s exactly what began to unfold at Summit on Saturday.

 By Elizabeth Brown

Elizabeth Brown is the program director for LIFE Microlending Program. Elizabeth is also a freelance writer and has completed a series of case studies on green businesses published by the Illinois Institute of Rural Affairs.