New Home in Cyberspace

New Home in Cyberspace

The Loudoun Youth Initiative unveiled a new Web site just for teens at the Board of Supervisors' Oct. 19 Human Services Committee meeting., the Initiative's newest effort in youth outreach is a direct result of the Initiative's Listening to Youth phase that took place last year, said LYI director Tim Chesnutt.

"We spoke with 500 youth around the county, both middle-school and high-school age at schools, camps, juvenile detentions, in transitional housing, to those well-adjusted and those struggling," he said. "We got a good cross section of all the youth in Loudoun and we found some real commonalties in what the youth said were the greatest needs for youth to grow in Loudoun County."

A vehicle to learn, keep up-to-date on what's going on with friends and family and in the county, was at the top of the list and a Web site, Chesnutt said, was the best way to provide that for Loudoun's youth. Although the county contracted a professional Web site designer to put the site up, every aspect of its content, layout and design was garnered from conversations between Initiative staff and county youth.

"This is, to coin a phase from our country's forefathers, by the youth, of the youth and for the youth," Chesnutt said. Some of the features that teens asked for was a way to keep up with what was going on in the county, a singular spot to go to for information of interest to teens and a place to sound off on current events or personal issues, in a secure environment.

"One of the things that was very poignant, during our Listening to Youth phase, was that kids are finding they might go to school with a kid across the street for five or six years, but because of the growth rates and redistricting, all of sudden they're not going to school with one of their best friends," Chesnutt said.

The students wanted an easy way to keep up with the events at each other's schools that would complement personal e-mails. Some other features teens can use on the site is an advice column for teens by teens, calendars marked with events going on at all the county's high schools, middle schools and private schools, and tons of links to information about music, sports, movies, theater, books, volunteering, jobs and colleges. Although a Web site like this has been done before in other cities and towns across the nation, Chesnutt said he thinks Loudoun has set a precedent with the depth and comprehensiveness of its youth Web site.

"I don't know if any others have done it to quite this scope," he said. "And part of the reason why is because elected officials in other jurisdictions might have not been so brave. The Board of Supervisors deserves a lot of credit for letting us do this. They've been incredibly supportive." And teens seem to like it too. The site averages about 2,000 hits a day and has received almost 25,000 hits since it went online two weeks ago. Just this past weekend, the site received a little over 4,000 hits.

"As long as we can keep the teens involved, it will continue to be representative of the teens and what they're looking for," Chesnutt said.