Jennifer Mockus: Keep young people active, involved to help them succeed

04/11/2014 12:00 AM

04/10/2014 11:07 PM

Investing in our young people is essential.

The op-ed story written by Flip Hassett (“If we invest in success of city’s youths, it will pay off,” April 5, Page B1) was a welcome reminder of what an important asset our young people are, and how we as a community could do a better job promoting their development.

Working together – youths, families, schools, churches, community-based organizations, government, and others – is key to being successful. By investing in our city’s young people, we are investing in our city’s future.

Flip wrote that our civic leaders should put youths at the center of all of their strategic and budgetary goals and decisions. He’s right.

The 2012 U.S. Census Bureau estimates that people under the age of 18 make up 30.7 percent of Merced’s population. Money spent on programs for youths will come back to us and to our familes. It is time that we fund services to support their development accordingly.

But it is important that young people be involved in deciding what investments we make.

Everyone’s future success relies, in part, on our ability to prepare young people to become productive members of society, and recreation plays a key component in development. I am waiting to hear the city’s response to Councilman Michael Belluomini’s request for more information on the city’s ability to provide more recreational activities.

In a 2010 study, the National Recreation and Park Association found that approximately 40 percent of a young person’s week is free time through middle adolescence. Our city should invest in activities to help fill that free time and provide tools to develop into functional, healthy adults and strong community members.

Collaboration with other sectors to optimize resources, minimize redundancies and promote shared goals is crucuial. And we have to find ways to provide recreation for all members of the community, not just those who can afford to pay registration fees.

We are just finishing celebrating the Week of the Young Child. We can use the great examples set by our Week of the Young Child advocates as a roadmap on how to work together to find the right combination of activities that will help our youths succeed.

And it’s not just the young children who need recreational opportunities. Teens also need activities. We all need to work together to make this happen. We need to establish a vision that leads to the healthy development of our community’s young people. This vision must be embraced and endorsed by policymakers, staff and key stakeholder groups. The success of our young people, Merced’s future, depends on it.

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