A cohort of teens involved in Local Circles.
Detroit area youth, just as with many inner-city children, are not always afforded the opportunity to explore issues that affect them directly — from mental health to financial independence, Detroit’s youth are sometimes at a disadvantage. One local organization is working to give them the opportunity to explore the world around them through research and data-driven information on social issues important to them and their communities. This year, as topics surrounding mental health and wellness and financial woes plague adults, the non-profit organization, Local Circles, is leading the charge on how mental health and money are impacting Detroit’s young people.
Local Circles was founded by Nicole Jurek to allow Detroit’s youth to investigate social issues using youth-led research. With 20 years of experience in youth development, Jurek opened the doors to allow the youth to find their voices with not only research, but service-based engagement in their communities.
“We have adults that support young people to choose a social issue that’s important to them and study it. That’s what’s really unique about Local Circles because most organizations already have a focus and young people come to them and study that focus. Whereas with us, young people can come to us with their own ideas and study whatever it is that is important to them,” said Jurek.
The pandemic has placed a large strain on mental health. While many have begun discussions about how the pandemic has impacted adults, little is known on how it has affected children. The teens involved in Local Circles has uncovered truths about mental wellness for young people.
“Right now, we’re studying mental health. It’s obviously a really big theme in the world right now. Young people are coming to us and saying ‘this is impacting young people in a way that’s really different from what the adults are seeing.’ We’re focusing on that,” said Jurek. “We’re finding that the lack of social interaction has had a really big impact on teens’ mental health.”
Aside from the pandemic, police brutality has increased trauma for Black youth. With vivid images of police violence towards African Americans displayed on television and social media, youth are seeing police in a new light. As parents continue conversations around behavior when confronted by an officer, Detroit’s youth have found fear often settles in.
“They found that Detroit teens, at least half of Detroit’s teens, have had conversations with adults in their lives where adults tell them ways to interact with the police; to try to keep themselves safe. Inevitably, young people do come in contact with the police,” said Jurek. “When that happens, all the lessons they’ve learned sort of fall out of their heads.”
Detroit’s youth, through Local Circles, have also expressed the need to learn about financial literacy. As a part of the research, Detroit’s youth began to spread awareness around financial literacy for teens.
“The thing that they told me was adults were telling them that they should know how to do things, but those adults were not showing them how to do those things. They were really worried about money in particular — turning 18 and suddenly being financially responsible for themselves. We did a lot of learning about financial literacy and that same group of youth turned around and created a workshop to teach other teens about the lessons they were learning,” said Jurek.
As part of their financial literacy, teens have begun to learn about real world expenses and how they can manage money independently and responsibly.
“What is a credit card, how do you manage debt, how do you read a credit card statement, how do you open a bank account, how do you write a check? We just did some basic budgeting stuff. They were really concerned about how can we do this ourselves,” said Jurek.
As Detroit youth become adults, the student-led research they have been able to develop will not only help them in their lives, but impact the community at large. While the organization helps to facilitate their natural curiosity, it is the students who lay the foundation for what they want their future to be.
“With the research piece, our young people are able to create new knowledge. One of the things that I tell them is that we’re looking at a research project that has a question that we can’t answer with doing a Google search,” said Jurek.
Local Circles allows for volunteers to get in on the action and help lead Detroit’s teens.