Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price spoke with Christine Schilke, Communications Director at Connecticut Main Street Center, and Kayleigh Pratt, Policy Analyst at the Partnership for Strong Communities to learn more about the initiative and its future goals.
NAN PRICE: Give us a little background. When, how, and why did the initiative form?
CHRISTINE SCHILKE: The idea for Young Energetic Solutions (YES) started around 2013 with the Partnership for Strong Communities. It was an evolution based on a recognized need.
One of the aims of The Partnership is to reduce homelessness and increase affordable housing throughout Connecticut. At the time, it was thought that if more young people could get involved on boards and commissions advocating for this type of housing they would be able to better influence the system. So that was the early start of YES.
Connecticut Main Street Center became involved because we have a statewide network of members in local Main Street programs. These members can be volunteer-based, professionally managed, or a municipality. A lot of those members comprised city employees who are planners, economic development officials, and Main Street professionals as well.
We decided to have a joint event with YES and Main Street people to encourage a conversation about what young people are looking for in their neighborhoods and how to help create that change through the eyes of planners and zoners.
It was a great conversation, actually. We hosted two events, one in New Haven and one in Hartford. Everyone agreed: I want to be in a place where it’s okay if I have to drive to work, but when I get home, I really want to be in a walkable neighborhood. That was the young people’s perspective. And the older people’s response was: That sounds really good, can we live there too? Let’s be neighbors!
NAN: How has YES evolved since those initial discussions?
CHRISTINE: Over the next few years, YES became more focused and underwent some transitional changes. There was always recognition of this need in Connecticut: How are we going to attract and retain young people? How are we going to empower them to create the type of neighborhoods they’re seeking?
Then, around 2015, we formalized the relationship between Connecticut Main Street Center and the Partnership for Strong Communities because our goals are so closely aligned: The ideas around developing vibrant towns, creating more affordable housing, and attracting young people.
Once Kayleigh came on board, we really started to coalesce those ideas and think about how we could restructure this initiative to better engage young people, so we can really activate them and move our ideas forward. Right now, we are trying to provide education and awareness around the issues millennials are facing.
KAYLEIGH PRATT: We relaunched YES this year and really defined our mission, which is to empower young people to create a vibrant Connecticut. We created a statewide YES network to give young people the tools they need to help their communities within Connecticut become places where young professionals want to live, work, and play.
NAN: Does YES have members or does it act as a resource that makes connections to other organizations?
KAYLEIGH: Right now, we are an advisory committee. Christine and I are the co-chairs.
CHRISTINE: In the future, we may move toward a membership because it seems like a lot of people want to get involved and we’ve had inquiries about how to join YES. Right now, we don’t have the capacity to offer membership.
What we’re trying to do is to be that resource and say: Here’s how you can get involved. You don’t need to join YES. You can write a blog for your local paper or you can join a board or a commission.
NAN: In what ways does YES collaborate with other local young professional groups?
KAYLEIGH: We acknowledge and recognize that there are a lot of thriving young professional groups in Connecticut. We’re not trying to recreate the wheel; we’re working with them to further this idea of fostering a space where young people want to be.
Our hope is to engage people from local chambers of commerce and local business owners, entrepreneurs, and innovators.
We also tried to make sure we had representation from young professional groups like Hartford Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs (HYPE) on the advisory committee. The idea is to have this kind of parallel track of networks where we have access to young professional groups—and not just young professionals, young people in general of all types who can provide us with a link to Connecticut’s young people.
At the same time, we’re connecting with day-to-day influencers and organizers to perpetuate change—so policymakers, businesses, kind of the flipside of the coin. Who can help create that change?
We think of ourselves as a bridge between them to say: This is what young people are looking for. This is how we need to attract and retain them. And then, we come back to the young people and say: Here are the opportunities available. Here’s how you can become more involved in your community, so you can create the change you want to see.
CHRISTINE: I think that’s what YES is all about, convening all these young professional groups. There are obvious efforts trying to get young people involved. Let’s bring it all together.
KAYLEIGH: Also, in the past we’ve reached out to organizations including the Connecticut Economic Development Association (CEDAS), Leadership Greater Hartford, and the Connecticut Chapter of the American Planning Association (CCAPA) to help promote YES events and share relevant information.
NAN: How are young people finding out about young professional groups and getting involved?
CHRISTINE: We try to work with others to spread this message. For instance, we partnered on an event with HYPE, which was great because that gave us access to their audience and we were able to bring in Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, and Windsor Deputy Mayor Jody Terranova, who talked about different ways young people could get involved in their communities.
That led to some very interesting revelations. For example, someone in the audience asked: I thought about joining a board or commission, but it’s not necessarily my profession, so am I qualified?
It was helpful to be able to dispel those kinds of myths about how to get involved. And we realized we needed a way to provide answers to those types of questions.
So, right now we’re talking with one of our advisory committee members, Emily Hultquist, who is a Principal Planner and Policy Analyst at the Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG), about creating a brief educational how-to guide explaining how young people can become involved in their local government from general to more complex issues.
NAN: What kind of feedback have you gotten about YES?
CHRISTINE: Nan, you probably have similar experiences—you were telling us the Hartford-area entrepreneurs you talk to feel like they can make a difference here. They want to be here. That’s been our experience as well talking to young people. They’re glad our initiative is happening, and they have ideas about how we can do more and get more people involved. People think there’s opportunity here in Connecticut.
NAN: What’s next for YES?
CHRISTINE: At this point, we are working with the advisory committee to really articulate our goals. We’re starting with education and awareness. But I think long-term, we would like to act as advocates and put forth perhaps policy recommendations or commentary about specific ways municipalities, the state, or businesses can change what they’re doing. We’re just not there yet.
I think there’s a tremendous need for young people in Connecticut. We need the kind of dynamic places that will attract them and keep them here—not just bring them here for college and then watch them move away. How do we keep everyone here?
KAYLEIGH: We’re also redoing the YES website with information we’re compiling, such as best practices from other states. Like Innovation Destination Hartford, we want to act as the connector, not necessarily the generator of all the resources, but point people to the resources available.
Learn more about Young Energetic Solutions (YES)