Monday, April 19, 2010

Meeting on youth issues brings stakeholders to the table

If there’s anything today’s meeting of youth advocates taught me, it’s that we have some really smart young adults in this town. When they heard the police were going to facilitate a meeting for youth advocates, four Central High School students called my office last week and said they’d like to come. They told me they’d done a problem-solving exercise at school in which they identified problems facing Kansas City’s youth and brainstormed solutions. I asked to see their presentation, and I was blown away by what they had to say. They were spot-on on several accounts, so I invited them to speak at today’s meeting at Police Headquarters and give their presentation to the larger group.

A little over a week ago, we realized the need to get all the people who advocate and provide services for youth in our city into one place. I approached it much like I did the city’s homelessness issue a few years back. We discovered there were dozens of groups in Kansas City who served the homeless, but they were working separately for the most part. We realized we could do so much more together, so we started a Homelessness Task Force that brought dozens of people to the table who work with the homeless every day in some way or another, including police, hospital staff, shelter leaders and social workers. This group has now morphed into an official City task force and is working to draft policies that we hope will someday eliminate homelessness in Kansas City.

I want to model the process for finding solutions to youth issues after this process. That’s what today was all about: bringing together the people who can identify and solve the problems facing today’s teens and having them work cooperatively. The four students from Central High School were not originally on yesterday’s agenda, but when they called me and explained their message, I knew they were a Godsend that had to be part of this process. Several of the teens at today’s meeting said they hadn’t heard of many of the youth programs represented, and we hope we can change that by bringing them together.

These youth advocacy meetings will continue but will no longer be facilitated by police. With our Police Athletic League and DARE programs we’re a natural partner, but the City is taking the lead from here on out. Thalia Cherry, youth advocate in the City Manager’s Office, is organizing a public focus group at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 22, in the College Basketball Experience at 13th and Grand downtown. City Council Members Cindy Circo and Sharon Sanders-Brooks are drafting a Youth Master Plan for Kansas City. This momentum is very exciting, and I’m looking forward to what can be achieved when those who are passionate about helping kids all come together.

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