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National Clearinghouse on Homeless Youth and Families

Community Mapping Connects Youth to Their Neighborhoods

The nonprofit organization buildOn uses a tool called community mapping to give young people a deeper sense of their own neighborhoods.

Time: 4:11


NCFY: Welcome to NCYF Voices, a podcast series from the Family and Youth Services Bureau. 

The nonprofit organization buildOn uses a tool called community mapping to give young people a deeper sense of their own neighborhoods. Nikkya Martin, a Community Manager for buildOn’s Connecticut program, explains the concept.

MS. NIKKYA MARTIN: So, community mapping is a great tool for students to use to get a better perspective of what assets and deficits exist within their communities.  And so, they get the opportunity to do what we call scavengerhood and community interviews as well as a reflection, and then come up with an action plan at the end of their three-step process. 

NCFY: Luis Torres participated in the program and says that the scavenger hunt in particular helped him understand and see things he’d always taken for granted.

MR. LUIS TORRES: I live in Bridgeport, CT, which is a very urban setting.  There’s a lot of poverty, a lot of litter and things that are all throughout the city. So when we were going through the scavenger hunt, it was just really eye-opening to see the various things that exist that we don’t normally take note of just because we’re so used to seeing it. If you grow up there, you're not going to notice all the garbage that’s on the street or all the graffiti that’s in little places that just makes your community look worse. 

I obviously knew that there were problems in my city, but I think it’s just you become complacent with them. You really, you just like you're used to seeing them and especially on the scavenger hunt where there’s negatives and positives listed. When you see the negatives stacking up against the positives and you see that there’s such a large gap in between what your community’s assets are and what their deficits are. And when the deficits outnumber the assets by such a large number, you really take note of those deficits and it really just has a larger impact.

NCFY: Christian Perez says that the interview portion of community mapping was similarly eye-opening. Community mapping inspired him to think about what aspects of his town he could improve or change.

MR. CHRISTIAN PEREZ: When I started noticing these deficits, I started picking up more trash and then I started taking note of the abandoned buildings and vacant lots. And then I started making ideas based off of those. 

So one of my ideas was that we could use the abandoned building for a daycare center [for] those kids that can’t really afford it or the parents who can’t really afford it. And the vacant lots can be used for a store that is in need of more space. So maybe a store may have, like, only ten parking spaces, but it needs more customers to thrive. 

NCFY: While buildOn has used community mapping in urban settings, Nikkya Martin says the process can be replicated anywhere.

MS. NIKKYA MARTIN: Anyone can do community mapping and anyone can modify the community mapping to fit their community or fit their student base.  You know, if there is an opportunity to look at ways to better a school, you can do a scavenger hunt that's school specific. And so if there is a particular hallway that needs some livening up, whether that’s new painting or more art work on the walls, students can be proactive during a scavenger hunt and say this hallway is bare and we need something to liven it up. And then the community interview portion of it, if you were to tailor it to a school specific community mapping, you could look at speak to the custodians and speak to administrators and speak to teachers, all for a particular purpose. You know, how are we going to keep our school clean? If you're talking to the custodians or you're talking to the cafeteria staff. 

And it also opens up the students’ eyes to saying, "I value my community more so now after having heard all of the horrible things that a particular person may have shared with them." You know, a student is able to – from my experience – able to see their community in a different light after the community interviews.

NCFY: To learn more about youth engagement and volunteer opportunities, visit the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, online at