Task force sought to explore Merced youth council idea

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comJuly 30, 2013 

— A youth council came one step closer to existence in Merced on Monday.

The Merced Recreation and Parks Commission at its meeting asked the City Council for permission to create an exploratory task force for the proposed youth council.

"We want something that's going to be sustainable," commissioner Flip Hassett said.

The task force would be small but diverse, Hassett said, adding that the youth council needs to be defined so it will stick around.

The task force would be charged with studying what a youth council would do and how to get young people involved. Before making the request, the commission heard input from young people and youth advocates during three regular meetings.

Commissioner David Burke said he sees the commission as not just a way to hear from young people, but a way to make them feel involved.

"The key to success is to inform the youth and invite them to participate," Burke said.

Sustaining the youth council could be difficult, Burke said, because young people may lose interest. However, he said, the youth council could be a benefit. "If we can raise awareness, that's a good thing," Burke said.

Building partnerships

Michelle Xiong, youth coordinator with Building Healthy Communities, said she was optimistic about the direction the youth council is headed.

Xiong said the commissioners showed a desire to meet with youth advocate groups and hear from young people.

"You really have to leverage the partnerships of the people who are working with them, because it is hard to get youth to something that they're not really involved with," Xiong said.

A task force would slow the process, a good thing in the eyes of Xiong. The task force would be intentional and thoughtful about getting youths involved, she said.

Council earmarks money

At a budget meeting in June, the Merced City Council set aside $25,000 for a council made up of young people, if one comes to fruition.

The decision to earmark money was seen as a victory by youth advocates. In June, some members of the City Council were reluctant to get behind funding the youth council without defined parameters.

Commission Chairman Mike Jensen said the work toward forming a youth council needs to be an "extremely inclusive process."

He said he looks forward to hearing more input and answers from the community, especially young people.

"Many questions remain about how the commission will be organized, as well as its function and sustainability," Jensen said in an email.

The City Council is scheduled to make a decision on the request during its Aug. 19 meeting, according to city spokesman Mike Conway.

Reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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