Merced begins molding a youth council

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comSeptember 16, 2013 

A task force of seven young people and about five adults will be tasked with creating a youth council in Merced after a unanimous decision Monday by the Merced City Council.

The seven members of the council voted during a study session to each appoint a young person enrolled in high school for the task force.

Three adults from the Parks and Recreation Commission will take part in the task force, and, pending a decision by the Merced Union High School District, two adult district representatives.

Some council members expressed skepticism before ultimately approving the task force.

Councilman Tony Dossetti said the biggest roadblock to forming a youth council is a lack of interest from young people. No people of high-school age attended the study session Monday.

“If they’re not willing to show up, if they’re not willing to take the lead on this, it’s not going to work,” he said.

Michelle Xiong, youth coordinator for Building Healthy Communities, said it is the council’s responsibility to make sure young people are involved. She said council might need to make a greater effort.

“Their level of interest is going to depend on how (council) frames it to them,” Xiong said during the open forum.

A youth council is not a new idea in Merced. Such a commission disbanded in 2009 after a number of years. That council’s biggest success was a skate park.

Councilman Mike Murphy said the youth council will need some nurturing from council members to make sure it doesn’t flounder like it did in 2009.

“We’re going to have to be more hands-on if it’s going to be successful,” he said.

Andres Reyes, the coordinator for nonprofit We’ced Youth Media, said his biggest concern is that the youth council represents Merced’s diversity. He said he doesn’t want the group to be made up only of students who are already involved in leadership roles.

“I work with both sides and I find that those youth that aren’t normally engaged can be the most passionate and have the most commitment, once they really take ownership of it,” he said.

We’ced is aimed at getting young people involved in making media pieces.

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

If and how that money will be spent remains to be seen.

Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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