Opinion Columns & Blogs

Andres Reyes: Build partnerships to support youth

Andres Reyes is the managing editor of We’Ced Youth Media, a community media program.
Andres Reyes is the managing editor of We’Ced Youth Media, a community media program. Merced Sun-Star file

Recently, a simple tweet made a powerful statement:

“Researchers from @ucmerced shared that our Youth Council can be very productive with support from the city as well as other organizations.”

The words were tweeted by @MercedCityClerk after a presentation by the University of California, Merced, during a meeting on Aug. 3. In under 140 characters, it captures feelings I believe all residents of Merced share: Our youths can make a difference in our community. Our youths can address problems and provide effective solutions. Our youths deserve the chance to share their voices and vision for our city. Our youths want to create a better Merced, but they need all of us to help, especially those with resources and access.

We already have the perfect platform in place: the Merced Youth Council.

The City Council is providing support with a modest investment; now community organizations like mine, We’Ced Youth Media – one of an increasing number of groups stepping up for youths – are ready to do our part.

In order to be a genuine part of city government, the Youth Council requires ongoing support and training, coaching, mentoring and guidance. They need models and examples of what’s possible if they’re truly going to have an impact on the place we call home.

As we have said at previous City Council meetings, we want to partner with city leaders to leverage your investment.

Here in Merced, there is a wide variety of groups with tremendous expertise and a commitment to youth development. We want to work with the city to create a youth council that will be productive and innovative.

In UC Merced’s presentation, the researchers list “support youth council to serve as a better voice for youth” as their lead recommendation. We couldn’t agree more. Further, there are experts here who can provide training to help young people have the confidence to use their voice; sponsor a citywide conference on youth commissions; and provide access to youth commissioners and their adult allies across the state.

We can train young people on issues that impact their lives, such as violence prevention, educational success, healthy lifestyle choices and more. We are ready to help because we’re all in this together, supporting youths to become the best they can be, and making Merced the best community it can be.

The city is better served when youths are not only at the table but equipped with the tools to lead the conversation. The Youth Council gives our young residents a seat at the table. Now, let’s help them take full advantage of this opportunity.

We’ve come a long way in the past two years. The city is making some investments in youths while more Merced residents are coming forward in support.

But it is critical that we continue to take steps that will support more programs and better services. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

According to the 2010 census, about 32 percent of Merced is made up of people younger than 18. The Sun-Star reports the demographics could continue to trend younger as UC Merced hopes to reach an enrollment of 10,000 by the year 2020.

The future is here. We need to be unified in our investment in Merced youths, especially our elected officials and city leaders. Let’s work together to support the Youth Council to give our youngest residents an authentic chance to represent themselves as they improve our city.

Andres Reyes is the managing editor of We’Ced Youth Media, a community media program.