Several groups are encouraging young Wyoming residents to get more involved in local and state civic matters, and endeavoring to involve more youth in shaping the state’s future.

The efforts include an essay and multimedia contest and a summit focused on how young Wyoming residents can more actively engage in civic matters.

If residents aged 20 or younger wrote a roadmap for Wyoming’s future, what would it look like?

That’s the premise of the Youth Vision For 2030 writing and multimedia contest, sponsored by the University of Wyoming’s Ruckelshaus Institute of Environment and Natural Resources and nine other entities.

“Imagine your life in Wyoming in the year 2030,” the contest asks eligible contestants. “If all your dreams for this state come true, what will that day look like?”

Rather than just create an academic writing exercise, the contest’s organizers want to bring the voices of Wyoming’s young people to decision-makers and challenge leaders to consider those voices in the state’s policy discourse, Matt Henry said.

“There’s a disconnect between leadership at the state level and young people here,” said Henry, an assistant Instructional professor at the University of Wyoming’s Honors College. “There’s a generational divide.”

Henry frequently hears from students who say state leaders don’t take them into account or engage with younger generations about what they need to feel secure in building a future for themselves here, he said. Young people who have engaged in local and state civic matters often say the experience has left them feeling dismissed, he said.

“I hear from a number of students who say ‘I’m from Wyoming. I grew up here. I care about it, but I’m leaving for the Front Range as soon as I’m finished.'”

Several nonprofit groups around the state have stepped up efforts to recruit and elevate young Wyoming voices in recent years, Henry said. He and others see real value in new ideas from people who already have a major stake in the state’s future. The hope is that the Youth Vision 2030 contest helps coalesce those types of efforts, Henry said.

“I think that there’s some untapped potential in the state’s youth to really steer the direction of the state, and so this contest is just part of a broader effort.”

ENGAGE Wyoming is compiling a list of action items following its youth summit earlier this month in Casper.

The list includes building better networks, sharing strategies to engage with public and private entities and creating more entry points for young people to get involved, ENGAGE Treasurer Tyler Cessor said.

“We talked a lot about keeping energy focused on cultural development and cultural equity — the cultural environment that we want to inherit and that we want to create and live in,” Cessor said.

There’s a strong desire to encourage leaders to be more receptive to cultural change, Cessor added, particularly among Wyoming’s LGBTQ community. But to get there, young people and others who want to see more cultural diversity and acceptance must learn how to effectively engage with government and business leaders, he said.

“You don’t just show up when you need something,” Cessor said. “You have to build relationships.”

There’s a sharpening focus on creating the change people want to see while accepting the change that’s already happening in Wyoming, ENGAGE President Amber Pollock, of Casper, said.

“We have to continue to create these opportunities that our demographic, and many others, have been asking for,” Pollock said, “like the need to feel safe, to feel welcome, to feel as equal partners in the Wyoming experience.”

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

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