Help: Teens and OS

Michael Herman mherman at
Wed May 26 09:06:31 PDT 1999

  hello jay,

here's a messy posting of the story that appears at

you or these folks can call me at 312-280-7838 or brian reilly at

best for now, michael


              Youth Action in Open Space
              Sustainable Racine Project
              Racine, Wisconsin

              It was late October and too cold to be out without coats,
but there we were, pacing in the dark of a parking lot. My good friend
              colleague, Brian Reilly (Program Officer, The Johnson
Foundation) was fuming about being accidentally locked out of his new
              house. Personally, I was glad to have the time to talk, so
I kept pulling his energy back to his work and what he wanted to do with

              his role in Sustainable Racine, a whole-community
redevelopment project in Racine, Wisconsin. Eventually, we got around to
              passion for youth leadership.

              As it turns out, Brian had been talking to a number of
young people in the community. He really wanted to get them together and
              them more involved in the work of Sustainable Racine. We
went round and round in the parking lot...intentions, resources,
              opportunities, intentions, invitations, history,
intentions, opportunities...and finally to a plan.

              Four weeks later we met again, for the first youth
conference, and first Open Space meeting, ever hosted by the Johnson
              at their Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Wingspread Conference
Center. Thirty-five youth, ages 12-22, came to participate in the
              four-hour meeting. In true Open Space style, they
self-organized and self-managed an agenda of 14 of their most important
              They captured hand-written proceedings and typed a contact
list so that they could keep in touch beyond the meeting.

              Though their interests and proposed activities were later
clustered into six major areas for future work, the dialogue in the
              circle focused on an immediate opportunity for action and
recognition. A 23-site, all-Racine meeting was already scheduled for a
              Saturday, about six weeks later. With that in mind, the
group decided to table their main interests and put all their efforts
into getting
              as many of their peers out to represent the youth
perspective at the all-community meetings day. Everyone pledged to
contact at least
              three friends.

              An estimated 1,000 people showed up to participate the
multi-site dialogues, about 100 of those were youth. Another 3,000
              watched on TV. Afterward, 12 out of 100 people selected
for the 'visioning committee' were under 25 years old.

              This felt like the first success for the youth group, even
as they continued to debate whether they were a 'process' or an
              'organization.' By choosing to call themselves 'Youth
Action,' they made sure that the debate didn't slow their activity.
              direct result of the first meeting was the emergence of a
'youth art' newsletter.

              Going back to that first meeting, one of the major issues
for the group was skate boarding. So when the development of a new
              skateboard park hit the newspapers, some members of the
group worked to inject their interests into the discussions of donors,
              developers, planners and architects. In the end, the youth
involvement made the front pages of the local papers and the park
              has been moved from its proposed industrial park site, to
a more desirable downtown park location.

              In May, the group gathered for their second large-group
session in Open Space and returned to work on their six main issues:
              internet access, the construction of a youth center, skate
boarding sites, sexually transmitted diseases, and environmental issues.

              They also added an important seventh issue: growing their

              This second meeting was scheduled from 5:37p to 8:04p, in
an effort to remind parental chauffeurs that "whenever it starts is the
              right time" and "when it's over it's over, and when it's
not, it's not." (The first meeting had run over by about 20 minutes, for
              a number of folks apparently took some heat.) At this
meeting, the group grew to more than 60 members who recommitted
              themselves to looking into similar projects in other
cities and to finding adults and other resources within the Racine area.

              When they reconvened in July, still in Open Space, they
brought the fruits of their research and resourcing efforts and the
              expanded to 75, including some new adult supporters. This
meeting was also significant in that two girls in the group did the
              of opening the space. (Brian had facilitated the second
open space meeting.)

              These girls' leadership efforts and open space
facilitation work with the group also earned them an invitation to
attend a national
              conference sponsored by the YMCA Earth Service Corps (a
cutting-edge youth led, adult supported, environmental- and
              service-learning program). There, they knock the socks off
of an impressive gathering of youth leaders and adult supporters. Folks
              were so interested in their stories and successes with
Open Space, that a block of time was cleared in the conference schedule
so that
              the girls could demonstrate Open Space Technology. They
opened a small space there for the 100+ participants...a little too
small a
              space, actually, for one breakout group that focused on
'race relations,' which could have gone on much longer than the
              time available.

              Currently, it seems that this group is becoming an
important cluster of activity within the overall Sustainable Racine
effort. They
              expect to keep meeting formally, in Open Space, every two
months or so, with lots of informal, supporting conversations in
              between. A special meeting with an architect for their
proposed youth center is also in the works, with the support of the
              Racine project office. Finally, efforts also are being
made to establish a Racine Chapter of the YMCA Earth Service Corps.

              This story's come a long way from that cold parking lot
and Brian's three-paragraph invitation, last November. And it may be
              beginning. If this is something you'd like to see happen
in your community, email Michael Herman, who can connect you with Brian
              and the youth leaders in Racine. You might also be
interested in visiting the YMCA Earth Service Corps website or emailing
              Training Director Charlie Murphy, who just happened to be
in Racine for the that first meeting in Open Space.

              to Open Space Resources Page

              UPDATE: August, 1998...this just in from Brian, via

              "Good news--open space as taught to Earth Service Corps
people by Dana and Becky replicates itself. I heard from a woman today
              who has used it several times in Minneapolis! Funny. As in
funny-cool, not funny-ha ha..."

              UPDATE: May, 1999

              In April, 1999, three youth leaders attended one day of
the Chicago Open Space Training Workshop, where they shared their
              learnings and questions with other leaders. This helped
them prepare for a presentation they made at the National Town Hall
              on Sustainability, in Detroit, Michigan, in May, where
they shared their stories and did a short demonstration of the Open
              Tech process. Work continues on the development of their
YESC chapter, currently the largest chapter yet established.

              This piece may be copied and shared with others, as long
as it is copied and distributed in its entirety, retaining all of the
              contact and copyright information included below.

                                                       Youth Action in
Open Space


                                                          by Michael

                                            300 West North Avenue #1105;
Chicago, Illinois 60610

                                           (312) 280-7838; email:
mherman at

                                                ©1998 Michael Herman.
All Rights Reserved.


Michael Herman
...inviting spirit AND results in evolving organizations

Michael Herman Associates
300 West North Avenue #1105
Chicago IL 60610
312-280-7838 voice
312-280-7837 fax
mherman at

The Global Chicago Network

Michael Herman Associates

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