Since Merced native Danica Duxbury was 14, she has been looking for a place in the city to call her own, somewhere she could have gone as a teenager where she would feel welcome, comfortable and a sense of belonging.
The 27-year-old woman was among more than 50 people who marched from McNamara Park to Bob Hart Square on Tuesday evening, chanting and pleading for exactly what Duxbury has wanted.
Merced’s Youth Council, Building Healthy Communities and members from the community made sure city officials at the Civic Center would be able to hear them rallying from Bob Hart Square.
“What do we want?” 14-year-old Jesus Duran yelled into a megaphone.
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“Invest in youth,” the crowd responded.
“When do we want it?”
The proposed budget for Merced’s Youth Council is $13,000, up $500 from last year. Tatiana Vizcaino-Stewart, the manager of Building Healthy Communities, said the amount the city is willing to invest for the Youth Council is still insufficient.
“Investment in Youth Council is an investment in young people as a whole in the city of Merced,” she said.
Vizcaino-Stewart said Building Healthy Communities has done research, talked to experts and came to the conclusion that $75,000 would be an optimal investment in the Youth Council.
“We’re not advocating for services or a program,” Vizcaino-Stewart said. “We’re advocating to give structure to and support to the Youth Council.”
Former Youth Council member Jerome Rasberry urged everyone to be at the Merced city budget meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday as officials decide how much funding to award the Youth Council.
“We’re here because we, as adults, care for the youth of Merced,” Rasberry said. “We want to see a change and excitement.”
Duran attends Merced High School and talked about the lack of places for young people in Merced to go, whether it is after school or during summer vacation. He said the lack of investment in local youths leads them to turn to gangs or drugs.
“I believe this youth is important because they want to be involved,” Duran said.
Vizcaino-Stewart said she doesn’t know exactly what the funding for the Youth Council is being used for, and she wants to see a more organized plan laid out by the City Council to know what is being funded.
“We would like to hold more events and host more events so the community can get to know us better,” Youth Council member Alexander Salas said.
There are so many young people who want to be involved in positive progression for Merced, Vizcaino-Stewart said, and having a strong plan and backing from city officials will help the youths better represent themselves and learn how to work alongside one another.
“The goal of Building Healthy Communities is to support youth voices and inclusion,” she said. “The coalition is asking to invest in young people by investing in the Youth Council.”
Duxbury now has the job of raising her 9- and 3-year-old children and wants to see a positive change in Merced, with the hope that her kids will have something she never had as a teenager: somewhere to go after school.
“It’s not this generation, it’s our generation,” Duxbury said. “We need to start making a way for them (youths) to be better and grow if we want them to be better.”