Student creates youth opportunities

Matt Norris works with kids from his hometown of Brooklyn Park to get them more involved.

Tom Moran

Even after leaving his hometown and its young residents behind for college, Matt Norris never forgot them.

Norris, a first-year University student, is changing the culture of his hometown by involving youths in the city’s future and creating resources for them – right out of his satellite city office in his room in Yudof Hall.

The movement Norris works on, called Champions for Youth Opportunities Coalition, began in 2005 when a survey showed the citizens of Brooklyn Park were concerned about juvenile crime and a lack of opportunities for teenagers.

Norris, who has worked with the city as youth liaison and youth planner since his junior year of high school, helped the various departments devoted to juveniles work together and pool resources for a common goal.

“We’re trying to rally the troops,” he said.

Norris said his ultimate goal was to include youth and create a place they could call their own, feel safe and hang out.

“We don’t want to be reactive anymore, but proactive to their needs,” he said.

Jan Ficken, Brooklyn Park’s manager of recreation, said the city initiative Norris works on reaches out specifically to teenagers from the city.

Norris is a big part of inviting juveniles to give feedback, Ficken said, and he established a youth advisory committee to speak directly with the city council and the mayor on their behalf.

She said it puts the normal decision-making process on its head by making the teenagers equals in discussion.

“This movement is all about youth advocacy,” she said.

His work with the city and as a student, however, is just a portion of what Norris has on his plate. He is also a member of the University’s mock trial team and works as a research assistant at the Carlson School of Management.

Assistant professor Mike DeVaughn has found Norris to be a valuable piece of their two-man team in research. DeVaughn is studying the decisions undrafted football players make as free agents.

Norris is more than the average research assistant, DeVaughn said, because of the enthusiasm he brings to the project.

“Lots of RAs just photocopy papers and get data for you,” DeVaughn said. “But he takes the next step and tries to do first analysis.”

Norris said the research was a great opportunity for him because he is a sports enthusiast and wants to find a job in sports management.

He said his dream job would be working in the front office of the Minnesota Vikings.

With Norris’ workload, he said he often needs to make tough decisions between conflicting events. Last weekend, he chose to attend a mock trial competition in Superior, Wis., instead of a youth gala event in Brooklyn Park.

“These things are difficult to juggle,” Norris said, but added he’s “a person who likes to stay busy.”

Taking fourth place at the event launched his team to the national competition.

Jennifer Hendricks, a political science first-year, said the team is serious at times, but tries to have fun. She said Norris’ closing arguments end the team’s competitions with a bang.

“He’s very passionate,” she said. “He makes his point, and he makes it loudly.”

Norris said he often feels stretched thin and doesn’t get a chance to live the typical college experience. But he said he doesn’t mind spending his weekends catching up on his work.

“You have to give a little to get these opportunities,” he said.

Norris does find time for recreation; he watches and attends sporting events and hangs out with his friends on weekend nights.

“He won’t even answer his phone while the Vikings are playing,” Hendricks said. “But if you took away his scheduling phone, he’d probably throw something at you.”