Jonathan Nelson, Youth University intern and fourth-year Concurrent Education student, promotes the Youth University project outside the Computer Commons.Youth University at Brock is asking how can we build a better future for Niagara’s youth.The group’s Our Future Project is one possible answer to this question. It is a community development initiative aimed at building self-esteem, developing life and learning skills, and connecting personal interests with career and educational goals among Niagara’s most vulnerable middle-school children.“We’re looking to partner with parts of the region with limited access to services in order to connect kids with university student mentors and instructors who can act as positive role models,” said Kate Cassidy, director, Youth University. “We want to help them see why they’re great, motivate them to stay in school and help them to dream big about their futures.”Programs funded by the Our Future Project include:personalized and long-term interventions like in-school science and technology outreach to low-income schoolscareer exploration and educational planning with university student mentorsin-school tutoring and after-school programming to develop social skills“This initiative has the potential to impact more than 3,000 youth in Niagara and in order to make it happen we’re looking at all of our funding options,” Cassidy said. “Which is why we’ve submitted our idea to the Aviva Community Fund competition where we have the opportunity to win $76,000 to give this project a much-needed boost.”The Aviva Community Fund contest is a voter-based competition that is now in round three of voting. Youth University hopes to generate enough votes for the Our Future Project to reach the top 10 in their category and move on to the semi-final round. Voting for round three ends Nov. 26 and registered voters can vote once a day between now and then.University graduates can earn up to $1.3 million more over a lifetime than someone who has not gone beyond high school. Education level is also linked to steady work, community involvement and overall health.About 55 per cent of Niagara’s population has a high school diploma or less, and only about 10 per cent possess a university degree. Research shows that students begin to set their educational and career paths as sixth grade, and kids who do not have significant role models in their lives who have attended a post-secondary institution are less likely to continue on a path to post-secondary education themselves.