Wel­come to Parkville

The town run by teens, for teens


At a work­shop I at­tended, art and drama ther­a­pist Emily Nash1 shared an ex­pe­ri­ence she had while work­ing with trau­ma­tized chil­dren and ado­les­cents at a res­i­den­tial treat­ment cen­ter in the USA. The boys who at­tended her class were of­ten com­bat­ive, prone to neg­a­tive and self-de­struc­tive be­hav­ior, and un­able to trust adults or even one an­other. Al­most all had his­to­ries of se­vere abuse and emo­tional ne­glect.

They rou­tinely brought their neg­a­tive at­ti­tudes into the class­room, as re­flected in their foul speech and rough man­ner­isms.

Sit­ting in a cir­cle in typ­i­cal group coun­sel­ing fash­ion, some of them ex­pressed their anger through state­ments like “I hate be­ing here” or “I hate do­ing this!”

“Fine,” Emily would say, “but why?” She put the ques­tion to them one by one.

“There's no re­spect!”

“Th­ese jerks laugh at me!” “Nobody lis­tens to me!”

“Too many fights!”

Af­ter lis­ten­ing to their rea­sons, Emily replied, “What I'm hear­ing isn't that you hate this class ex­actly, but that you hate liv­ing in a com­mu­nity where peo­ple don't re­spect or trust one an­other, make fun of peo­ple they don't like, and fight.”

They nod­ded in agree­ment as if to say, At last some­one is lis­ten­ing!

“What if,” Emily asked, “we were to cre­ate a com­mu­nity where you did feel re­spected, a com­mu­nity in which your needs were met, a com­mu­nity in which you felt safe? What would that com­mu­nity be like? Let's cre­ate it to­gether!”

The boys' imag­i­na­tions shifted into gear.

“Let's call it Parkville!” some­one called out. Ev­ery­one agreed.

Parkville de­vel­oped into a six-month pro­ject. The class made

a ban­ner that read: Wel­come to Parkville—Where all your needs are met! They drew a map of the town, in­clud­ing points of in­ter­est that re­flected what they wanted in their com­mu­nity. They elected and ap­pointed peo­ple to fill var­i­ous roles in the town: mayor, su­per­in­ten­dent of the school, di­rec­tor of the arts cen­ter, owner and chef of the com­mu­nity café, ar­cade man­ager, and many more. They cre­ated spe­cial events. They found so­lu­tions to Parkville's prob­lems in town hall meet­ings. Parkville be­came a com­mu­nity that they all said they would love to live in.

The first step was to draw the young peo­ple out by ask­ing ques­tions and lis­ten­ing care­fully and re­spect­fully to their an­swers, even though they came across quite neg­a­tive at first. The next step was to chal­lenge them to make a dif­fer­ence by chan­nel­ing their en­ergy into con­struc­tive projects that in­ter­ested them. Emily ex­plains Parkville's suc­cess:

The pro­ject gave th­ese young peo­ple an op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence liv­ing in a well-func­tion­ing com­mu­nity, many of them for the first time, even if only while they were to­gether at the cen­ter. Their com­mu­nity be­came one in which there was sup­port, where they could ex­press their needs and oth­ers would lis­ten and re­spond, a com­mu­nity built on mu­tual re­spect and care, a com­mu­nity of pos­si­bil­ity.

In role­play, they found that they could be ef­fec­tive cit­i­zens and had some­thing to con­trib­ute. Self-im­posed lim­i­ta­tions were stretched, and new strengths and ca­pac­i­ties were ac­cessed. An ado­les­cent who was en­gaged in de­struc­tive be­hav­ior was trans­formed into a leader, a car­ing fa­ther, a re­source to the com­mu­nity.

Var­i­ous meth­ods are be­ing used to­day to reach youth through their own in­ter­ests, such as sports pro­grams, art and drama ther­apy, and com­mu­nity projects. Through th­ese projects, young peo­ple can ac­quire life­long skills and a pos­i­tive self-im­age. When we help them iden­tify goals and find ways to over­come the ob­sta­cles they en­counter along the way, we help them re­al­ize their po­ten­tial.

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