It was summer in the early 1980s, in Colorado, and I (Dean Borgman) sent my class of some forty eager youth leaders into the community to research various cultural influences on young people. Their research took them to the library, magazine stores, schools, and more especially to youth, parents, teachers and coaches themselves. They sought to uncover the influences of family, television, advertising, schools, sports, music, and churches on youth. At the time, this sort of research was more of a novelty. Thus, as word spread of the project, excitement on campus built until other students and even family members and visitors flooded the large classroom to hear the final reports presented.
As a professor, I was fortunate to have youth work experience in many settings: suburban, rural and urban; secular public school teaching, church and para-church (mainly Young Life); teaching in the U.S., Europe, East and West Africa, and leading workshops in various other places abroad. Graduate studies in intellectual history and a degree in counseling further prepared me for teaching and writing. Still, I was rather stuck, as many of us are, within the limits of my own experience and theories.
It was through my own teenage children (and their affinity for rock music) and a seminar led by Michael Warren that brought a realization of the power of the media and the need for cultural research. Advertisers had their fingers on the pulse of ever changing youth and youth culture, and therefore knew much more about young people than youth workers did. It became clear that youth workers needed to be as informed as mainstream advertisers like Pepsi and Calvin Klein. These realizations led to the project for my Adolescent Culture class.
As the reports from that summer class were presented someone called out, “Dean, you gotta copy all these reports and send them out to us all!”
I could still point you to the exact spot I was standing in the classroom that day—and what went through my mind. I’d never have time for all the work required, and by the time the task was completed some of the information would be out of date. I had never used a computer, but I blurted out, “This must be what computers are for!”
That’s how CYS was born! When I taught the same class at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary the next year, one student, Anne Montague, a seasoned junior high youth minister, volunteered to help transfer the information onto her early Apple II E. We needed to get our best information onto Mac and PC floppies for anyone who was interested. Another student, Jim George from Pittsburgh, a computer programmer, created a system whereby users could access our central computer by phone modem. Then came the Internet.
Unable to find a software publisher or organization to sponsor us, the project was shelved in the early 1990s. But just a few years later we were urged back into operation by folks literally from around the world. We are thankful for various sponsors who have taken us under their wings, the Pittsburg Leadership Foundation, the Urban Youth Workers Institute, and most recently the Emmanuel Gospel Center in Boston, among many others. In late 2013, The Youth Cartel redesigned our site and improved upon it making it more searchable through Google and therefore more accessible. We are excited for where this next part of our journey takes us.