August 23, 2019

Why this upstate New York community is teaching 5-year-olds about civic engagement

Here are three stories to inspire you as you head into the weekend.

A new program run by a local political party in Ithaca, New York, encourages kids to learn about civic engagement. Photo by Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

Each week, The Renewal Project shares three stories from around the country that highlight the innovative solutions people are creating in their communities. This week, we’re sharing stories about civic engagement, helping kids get the school supplies they need, and an app for users who are on the autism spectrum. What are the innovative ideas in your hometown? Tell us at

Teach them well and let them lead the way: You’re never too young to get involved in politics. That’s the message that Ithaca, New York, Mayor Svante Myrick wants to impart on his city’s youngest residents and their families. This week, Myrick was the featured speaker for a new program launched by the Tompkins County Democratic Committee. Kids Taking Action is a series of activities and events that aim to get kids around ages 5 to 12 involved in political and civic engagement.

About 30 children and their families attended this week’s event at Ithaca’s Town Hall. Children were able to ask the mayor questions about his job and learn more about how local government works. Myrick spoke with The Renewal Project about the program and why it’s important to show kids that their opinions matter and why they should exercise their voice.

“It’s about demonstrating to young people that they have power, before they can be told by the world the opposite,” Myrick said.

Kids Taking Action launched in July, when about 20 children visited the Tompkins County Board of Elections and learned how to fill out a ballot by voting for their favorite ice cream flavor. The winning flavors—vanilla and mint chocolate chip—were served at this week’s event so the kids could see their results in action. The next event will take place in September at the Tompkins County Recycling and Materials Management Office, where kids will learn about what items are recyclable.

Supplied for success: Back to school is an exciting time for kids, but it can also be stressful on families, especially when they can’t afford required school supplies. In the U.S., about one in five children live in families whose incomes are below the federal poverty line. Many schools in low-income districts don’t even provide families with “back to school” lists because they don’t want to burden the parents, Dave Smith, executive director of the Kids in Need Foundation, told CNN.

But there are many ways you can help teachers create the best learning atmosphere for their students. Crowdfunding sites such as allow teachers to raise funds for basic supplies such as notebooks and crayons, to books, to classroom fixtures like plastic bins and cushions for flexible seating. Organizations such as Kids in Need Foundation and Blessings in a Backpack also help schools provide the necessary nutrients and supplies kids need to succeed.

Self-made self-care: Eighteen-year-old Ethan Shallcross wanted a way to manage his anxiety, so he built an app. The young software developer is on the autism spectrum and developed Aumi for iOS to help others like him and also anyone who struggles with anxiety. Using emojis and symbols, the app allows users to track their mood and energy levels and also makes it easy to tell others about how they feel where they normally may struggle with communication. Aumi also comes with a planner tool to help users organize their day.

Shallcross created Aumi to help him deal with his own symptoms, but made the app highly customizable so others can use it in the way that they need to. The app launched in January but has already made an impact on the health community with numerous positive reviews from users. And Shallcross is busy with the launch of new features next month.

Danielle Moskowitz

The Renewal Project

Danielle Moskowitz is a contributor to The Renewal Project.
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