Mayor’s Cabinet on Young People
Wednesday, March 1, 2006 – 3:00 p.m.
City Council Chambers
Rich Becker, Pat Berger, Mayor Brown, Hal Gershman, Lisa Burger (for President Kupchella), John Packett, Mark Rath, Chris Rood, Julie Jeske (for Casey Ryan), Dr. Mark Sanford, Jamie Selzler, Betty Ottesen (for Don Shields), John Staley, Bob McWilliams (for Deb Thompson).
Bobby Haskins, Cierra Roebuck, Kelly Jones, Scott Holdman.
II. Statement of Intent.
Mayor Brown called the meeting to order at 3:00 p.m. He thanked everyone for coming and for the commitments that they have already made to make our community a better place, in particular, in the area of enhancing the experience for the youth in our community. He continued that he called this group together today with the hope of forming a group that can continue this work to make our community the best that it can be and hopes that we can find ways to be even more effective in improving the community for our youth. He asked that each person present introduce themselves and explain their organizations impacts on this target area.
Lisa Burger, Director of Student Academic Services at UND, designee for President Kupchella, stated that her department works with all incoming freshman and other students that do not have a declared major. She continued that one of the big projects that they have going on now is preparing for the “Big Event” which is coming up on April 22. She explained that this event gives youth the opportunity to go out into the community and perform service projects to help non-profits and needy individuals with projects. She commented that the interest both on the community level and the student participation level is continuing to grow and that is a positive for both the youth and the community. Mayor Brown commented that he was at a meeting planning for the Big Event and agreed that it is a great event in our community.
John Staley, Director of Parks and Recreation, stated that his group provides opportunities for recreation, both traditional and nontraditional, as well as places for recreating which include 45 current sites in the community and a plan to add more in the future.
Betty Otteson, Community Health Nurse, designee for Don Shields, stated that the Health Department works very closely with parents and the school system in a number of ways including immunizations and nutrition planning.
Chris Rood, Coordinator for the Answer and Community Coalition with the School District, stated that her groups both work with promoting youth in the community.
Pat Berger, President of the United Way of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, stated that United Way provides funding to many organizations and programs that directly benefit youth in the community and is right now in the process of allocating almost $500,000 that will affect programs targeted to youth in the community.
Bob McWilliams, Associate Executive Director of the YMCA, stated that they have 1,200 members, offer youth sports programs, day camps and a childcare program at their facility and that all their programs emphasize prevention of risk factors through building healthy strong children.
Mark Rath, Youth for Christ, stated that his group has worked with youth in the community for many years and just opened a new location for a teen center. He continued that YFC focuses on prevention of risk factors and on mentoring as a way to reach youth.
John Packett, Chief of Police, stated that they often are known for working with youth in a reactive situation, but have a growing proactive program that also works with youth in the schools and community through a variety of education programs that are done through the Community Service Bureau Division of the Police Department.
Jamie Selzler, Citizen Member, stated that he is a 27 year old citizen of the community. He continued that his interest in the cabinet came about over the last 5-10 years as he saw more and more of his friends leave the community, not because they did not like it, but for jobs. He stated that he is a product of some economic development in the City that succeeded, as he is an employee of Amazon.com. He continued that he is pleased to be involved with providing input on ways to improve the community in ways that will encourage people to come and stay here.
Dr. Mark Sanford, Supt. Of Schools, he commented that they believe that there are 7 major parts of planning and one of them is partnerships and he is glad to be involved in this one. He cited several examples of successes achieved by youth involved in programs of the school system, which included sports programs, academic awards, and music and arts groups. He stated that for the last few years they have focused on “Excellence with Equity”. He continued that they have been working hard in the early childhood years on areas including class size and reading readiness. He commented that they have no more than 36 students in any one grade level that are falling below grade skill level at this time. He added that they are now beginning work with the secondary level. He stated that he appreciated being included in the cabinet and was looking forward to working with the group on youth issues.
Hal Gershman, City Council President, acknowledged the schools for their excellent work with youth and for their efforts to provide opportunities for students in the arts within the school offerings. He commented that there are currently 5,400 students involved in some way in the arts in the schools and in the face of tough budgeting, was glad to see the school district continuing to include these programs. He added that he is involved with the Board of the Empire Arts Center and they are also trying to increase the opportunities that they have for youth in the arts and gave some examples of some current and upcoming programs that they offer and stated that their current president, Mark Schill, is in his late-20’s. Gershman continued that he often speaks at a class at the University and used to ask how many want to leave ND when they are done and most would raise their hand. He continued that when he would ask how many want to come back, many would raise their hand. He commented that is a good sign and he attributes the desire to leave with our lower salaries in this region, with our local average salary being $27,500. He is interested in looking at improving the community in ways that will encourage people, if not to stay, to return here and make it their home to raise their family.
Rich Becker, President of The Chamber, stated that he believes that youth is a valuable asset to the community. He commented that the Chamber is now running both print and tv ads promoting Grand Forks as a wonderful place to raise a family. Becker stated that it is good to see so many different elements here and ready to work together on the community.
Gershman commented that he also wanted to note that he feels we should not try to guilt trip our youth into staying, but rather should accept that some will leave and let them know that it’s o.k. to leave, but that we would welcome them back if they choose to return and then if they return, encourage them to use their new knowledge and experiences to make the community better.
Julie Jeske, Public Relations for Altru Health System, designee of Casey Ryan, stated that she has lived in the community now for a number of years, but when they initially were deciding on making the move from their home in Jamestown it was a tough decision. She stated that she is very impressed with the opportunities that exist here for youth in the various sports and arts programs. She stated that the effect that having a quality health care system impacts the success of the community in many ways both with youth and adults and noted that they are the largest non-state employer in the community.
Mayor Brown again thanked everyone for their participation in this cabinet. He asked if there were any suggestions for other individuals or groups in the community that should be invited to participate. The group brainstormed and suggested groups were: Upward Bound, TRIO, Job Service, Home Day Care Association or Child Care Resource and Referral, Artwise, possible a Youth Pastor, someone from groups dealing with disadvantaged youth – such as juvenile court, Divert, or Lutheran Social Services, UND Student Senate (it was noted that they were invited, but did not have a representative at today’s meeting.). At the end of the meeting, Becker asked that the Young Professionals Group also be added to this list.
IV. Youth Commission.
Mayor Brown stated that he would like to establish a youth commission as a way to gauge the success of the achievements of the cabinet. He asked the committee for suggestions as to size and membership for the commission.
Haga added that it has already discussed that there needs to be a way for youth get a voice back to the cabinet on how we’re doing and a commission would be a good way to do that.
Selzler stated that Minot has a great model for a youth commission. He continued that it has been in existence for several years and has been a great way for community members and students to bring forth their views on issues.
Rood commented that there are youth work groups from the Answer in secondary schools which are ongoing and maybe they could be used as a starting point for the commission. She informed the group on how members of the work groups had been selected and commented that we may also want to add some others, since if only school leaders are used you may miss getting views of the disadvantaged youth included.
Rath added that he hopes that this group can be more successful than prior ones which seemed to put all the kids together to get their opinions, but then did not listen to the views expressed and went on and did their own thing. Rood stated that in some of the discussions that had been held at Central, some of the group members had brought up that perhaps students should be asked about parenting skills and let them teach the parents what kids really need from their parents.
Sanford stated that they encourage students to participate in the public forums that are held for the school district and did have at least one student participant at each forum. He stated that they provided much valuable input during discussions on how to modify high schools. He added that he would like to see letting the kids get really involved and not just ask them what they want or like.
Becker stated that he is hearing a couple of different areas that this committee could go, either with youth under 18 or with young adult youth like college age and up. He added that the needs of these two groups would lead to two very different directions for the cabinet. Berger agreed that the cabinet needs to determine what their focus is, whether teen or college age as what we do to attract college students is very different from enhancing the community for elementary and high school age students. Becker added that if we are looking at the under eighteen age group then we need to also include parents in the mix and if it’s the college age then make sure that they are represented.
Haga stated that he doesn’t see a problem with the cabinet working in both areas and maybe subcommittees with different focus if needed. He stated that we still need to address what the youth commission will be both in size and membership.
Selzler informed the group that Minot’s commission has 20 members and focused on the K-12 age range, with about 10-15 of the members of the commission being from that age range.
The group discussed that there have been times where youth have put forth a desire for certain developments in the community, such as a skatepark, but it doesn’t get any further. Staley commented that the Park District has looked at adding several amenities, but it comes down to a budget problem. Rath stated that a variety of groups have tried to get the skate park going for over 10 years and maybe what it needs to get accomplished is a firm set of here’s what the hurdles are, now let’s find a way to get over them.
Mayor Brown commented that this is the kind of thing that he would like to see the cabinet look at and maybe they can help to facilitate those discussions to move the projects along.
Rath also cited the request from alternative sports groups for some funding to work in this area and that thus far they have not been successful in securing it. Gershman stated that Fargo has an indoor skating facility and there are many, not just teens, but also young adults in their 20’s that make many trips there to take advantage of the amenity and when they go they also go shopping and out to eat there and some even see it as an eventual reason to relocate which causes leakage from our community.
Rath stated that there is also a facility in Winnipeg and there are many who also go there. He continued that if we really want to become a destination city that we need to look beyond ideas like the skate park as being “just something for the kids to do”, and rather look at them as a benefit to the community and what they could gain from the people that would come for events associated with the skate park.
Rood informed the group that there is an individual reopening Planet Pizza and she is developing a roller rink as part of it. She continued that when they began considering the project they actually went to Central High School and asked them for their ideas as to what they would like to see with the business to make them want to go there and one of the items was a skating addition. Rood added that she also hopes the cabinet is able to use the commission to find needs and interests of the youth in the community and then can work with the commission to see who could best provide what’s needed to meet those needs and that enough networking takes place to be able to follow through on the ideas that are generated.
Gershman commented that he would like to see some goals set that are measurable such as build a skate park. He added that then the cabinet can tell how successful they are being. He continued that he is not in favor of the group just being there to research and talk, but would like to see them work to a goal of getting something done.
Berger stated that she sees it being very important that the group also have a focus of letting the you know that we value them. She cited several examples where youth feel they are not welcome and often are treated badly in some stores just because they may dress or look out of the normal Midwestern look. She feels that it is vital that our community find a way to embrace the youth and sometimes that can be done even without a large funding commitment, but more through youth appreciation measures. Mayor Brown commented that he would also like to see more done in this area of appreciation.
Rath stated that there is a youth appreciation committee that was formed after the flood and is still in existence. He stated that he worked with the committee for several years and they strived to get Youth Appreciation Week to be recognized community-wide, but never fully got there. He suggested that perhaps the cabinet could look for ways that they could work with the existing committee to enhance their efforts. He added that everyone always talks about youth as being the future, but he prefers to see them as out now and we should treat them that way. Mayor Brown said he would like to see us be able to put some of our appreciation not only into words, but also into actions.
Gershman inquired how tolerant our community is. Berger responded that her experience is if you look normal you’re accepted, but if you don’t and maybe wear your hair in a strange hairstyle or have piercings, people tend to get very nervous and are not at all tolerant.
Becker stated that he feels the Air Force Base has been very good at bringing some diversity to our community. He stated that he has been in many communities and he senses that most have the same reaction to differences that we do.
Staley expressed that the Park District has become quite frustrated in trying to site some facilities that would meet some community needs, as neighborhoods will rally against the facility before they even know much about it because they just don’t want to look at them and they don’t want the people that would come to them in their neighborhoods. He stated that they have run into that with not only the skate park, but also with basketball and bmx. He stated that perhaps we need to look at a partnership with the County on looking at a site for these. Staley added that another proposed need is a site for remote control planes and cars.
Rood stated that mentoring can also be a valuable tool in crossing some of the barriers in communities. She stated that this helps not only the youth feel valued, but also can be used to help the older community members learn new skills.
McWilliams shared that they have a Big Brother/Big Sister program, but sometimes struggle with finding enough volunteers to fill the needs of all the kids that are on the list. He said that many of their volunteers are from the University and then are only here 9 months of the year. He continued that they usually fill for girls needing mentors easily, but struggle with finding enough to match with the boys. Rood commented that there is a meeting coming up that can maybe help with some of this. Jeske said that they also have a lot of volunteers at Altru that could possibly help too.
Rath suggested that the cabinet might want to look at the old youth commission files and by-laws to see if they are something that we could build on before we try to start from scratch. Rood suggested perhaps we should also try to get information from other communities that have youth commissions and see how they are structured and how effective they in their communities.
Mayor Brown asked for volunteers to form a subcommittee to research this information and report back to the committee. Berger, McWilliams, Rood, and Selzler agreed to work on this. Berger stated that the old youth commission files are at the United Way office and she can pull them out. Rath will e-mail other YFC groups to see what they have in their communities. Rood will also contact other communities and gather information on their youth commissions. Selzler will contact the group in Minot and obtain information on their activities.
Rood stated that there will be a national speaker from America’s Promise in town for a conference on March 21 and 22 and perhaps she could facilitate a cabinet meeting to help us get started. She explained that the speaker, Barbara Taylor Hinsz, specializes in this area and especially with benchmarking. The group discussed that they could plan to meet on March 21 from 1-2:30 with Hinsz. Rood will contact her and e-mail Haga as to if this is possible. Selzler stated that the subcommittee should be ready to present their information at that time, as it could be helpful in the conversations that are planned to occur that day.
Haga asked that anyone with ideas for benchmarks for the cabinet should e-mail him and he will compile and then forward a complete list to the group.
Gershman suggested that perhaps we look at the benchmarks that America’s Promise uses to see if they would fit for us. He continued that perhaps if we look at what we want to measure, then we can base our focus and actions on those areas.
Selzler asked if there is any information on the economic impact that youth have on the community, such as how many have jobs and what their earnings mean to the community. Sanford stated that they had gathered some info on this, and he is not sure how reliable or detailed it was, but he will locate it and bring to the meeting.
Rood informed the group that currently her group is working with the Police Department on implementation of a GIS system that will allow for risk factors to be mapped and then overlaid with protective factors to be able to better see what is going on in the community. She stated that once that is fully implemented it may be helpful to the group as well.
Mayor Brown stated that he was very encouraged by the discussion today and that he has faith that this cabinet will come together to and move to action to make our community even better for our youth. He continued that our community needs to address the needs of its youth to continue to grow and thrive.
Becker commented that another group that could be added would be the young professionals. He pointed out that particularly in the area of attracting and retaining young adults, they could be a source of valuable information. Haga stated that he would work contact the group and ask for their involvement.
Meeting adjourned at 4:10 p.m.
Administrative Specialist Senior