Forum focuses on ways to improve communication between city of Merced and young people

cwinterfeldt@mercedsunstar.comNovember 3, 2013 

— A youth forum was held at the Merced Civic Center on Saturday to brainstorm ideas on how the youth of Merced can better communicate their issues to the City Council.

Of the 57 that attended, 21 were of high school age. Most hailed from Merced and Golden Valley high schools, plus one each from Buhach Colony and El Capitan high schools. A task force of seven young people and four adults, created by the City Council in September to open communication between young people and the council, was also on hand.

The meeting, held in the atrium of the civic center, opened with facilitator and recreation supervisor for the city Eugene Drummond asking attendees about their hopes and fears for the meeting.

“I hope that we can find a comfort zone to express our ideas,” said Irving Chavez, 18, of Buhach Colony.

After a lunch of pizza and bottled water, the forum separated into groups, one composed of adults and two of young people, to share ideas on how the city can bridge the gap between teens and the council.

Ideas from students included using social media platforms such as Twitter and YouTube to express their needs. Having student interns or delegates to the council was another way students felt they could better communicate their vision.

The ideas were written down on large notepads and then taped to the civic center windows. Attendees were given color-coded stickers to place next to their favorite idea. Receiving the most votes was the idea to form a youth council. Merced disbanded a youth council in 2009. That council created a skate park.

Overall, students said they want more face-to-face interactions with the City Council. Golden Valley junior class president Gabby Flores, 16, said she would like city leaders to visit their schools. “I know a lot of students aren’t comfortable talking to adults and higher authority, so come to our schools. We’re more comfortable. It’s where we learn every day. It allows us to speak our minds,” she explained.

“I think they have a really good thing starting, and I’d like to see where it goes,” Flores added.

Katrina Kasper, 17, of Merced High echoed Flores’ sentiment: “I think that they should go to schools and talk to us.”

Kasper was also in favor of internships and mentorships, “so we can shadow them on what they do. So we know what’s going on, and so we can tell them what we as teenagers of Merced think should happen and put in our input on things.”

Kasper had some reservations about using social media. “I’m not against it, but I don’t think it’s the best idea because sometimes people might not take that seriously,” she said. “Give us the agendas. My mom gets agendas. What about us?”

City public information officer Mike Conway, who organized the forum, felt it achieved the goal set by the City Council. “The main thing council wanted to hear was ‘How does youth want to communicate?’ I think we got some definite direction and ideas from them,” Conway said.

Addressing other ideas brought forth, and the idea of more face time with students, Conway said: “Even the ideas that may not have gotten votes doesn’t mean that they’re being dismissed. One of the groups was talking about having a Skype youth council between the schools.”

Conway said there was no effort by the City Council to direct students in their concerns or ideas.

“We just wanted the ideas, the comments and the conversation. We want the end result. If it is controlled by the students, by the youth, that’s perfect. If it originates on the school campuses, that’s fine. We just want the end product,” Conway said.

A report about the youth forum will be presented to City Council at its Nov. 18 meeting.

Sun-Star staff writer Christopher Winterfeldt can be reached at cwinterfeldt@mercedsunstar.com.

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