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Civic Institute puts focus on positive youth behaviors

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Working with youth to encourage and reward positive behaviors is at the heart of several new and ongoing initiatives planned by UnifiedErie, an organization whose aim is to reduce crime and violence in Erie County.

As lead facilitator of the Erie County Policy and Planning Council, the Mercyhurst University Civic Institute coordinates the prevention efforts of UnifiedErie through a Community Action Plan. These initiatives have grown out of that collaboration.

For starters, UnifiedErie is looking for the public’s help in nominating individuals who have a direct impact on the lives of Erie County’s youth for the 2nd Annual Youth Work Awards to be held in May.

“Youth workers are often the unsung heroes within our communities. They wear many hats - mentor, educator, counselor and friend. It is important to recognize their efforts and thank them for the important work that they do,” said Andrea Bierer, Community Action Plan coordinator, Mercyhurst University Civic Institute. To nominate a youth worker, visit

In addition, UnifiedErie is also looking to promote youth involvement in local religious organizations, Bierer said. “Social science research has identified that youth who participate in organized religion for one or more hours per week are less likely to participate in problem behaviors, including violence, teen pregnancy, delinquency, substance abuse and depression,” she said.

According to the results of the Pennsylvania Youth Survey conducted by the Civic Institute, Erie County youth scored significantly lower on religiosity than the national average, which prompted the first Religiosity Summit in June 2013 to share social science data with religious leaders and obtain input on strategies to promote youth involvement in local religious organizations. Bierer said the second summit is being planned for April 14.

Besides the Religiosity Summit and Youth Work Awards, UnifiedErie is working to increase awareness of existing opportunities to recognize youth for the good that they do in their communities, Bierer said. Increasing positive behaviors among youth includes providing opportunities and rewards for that behavior, she noted. The United Way of Erie uses an online platform, Get Connected, that connects people, including youth, to volunteer opportunities within the community. To view the opportunities, visit

Efforts are also underway to create a directory of existing awards that recognize youth for their good deeds. If you know of an organization that gives such awards, please contact Bierer at