MAYOR’S CABINET ON YOUNG PEOPLE
Tuesday, March 21, 2006 – 1:00 p.m.
City Council Chambers
Lisa Burger (UND), Betty Otteson (GF Public Health), Deb Thompson (YMCA), Julie Jeske (Altru Health System), Rich Becker (President of The Chamber), Chris Rood (GF Schools & The Answer), Pat Berger (United Way), Elaine Metcalf (UND), John Staley (GF Park District), John Packett (GF Police Department), Pete Haga (Mayor’s Office), Kelly Jones.
Haga welcomed everyone and expressed regrets from the Mayor, as he is at the clinic today and unable to be at the meeting. Haga also stated that Council President Gershman has given his position on the cabinet to Council Member Glassheim and that Mr. Glassheim has been very actively involved in youth programs within the community in the past and will be a good addition to the cabinet. Elaine Metcalf, UND Trio Programs, gave a brief introduction of herself and stated that her department works with students that are just coming into the college and helping them stay there and that their focus is with low income and first generation college students. She continued with a brief explanation of some of the programs that they sponsor and that they work with a lot of activities for students after school hours and summer activities.
Haga stated that there is also a Youth Pastor, Pastor Pat Severson from Evangelical Free Church, that has agreed to serve on the cabinet, as well as Amanda Silverman, from the GGF Young Professionals Group, but both were unable to attend today’s meeting.
Rood introduced Brenda Taylor-Heines, consultant for America’s Promise. Rood stated that Taylor-Heines was from Atlanta, GA and has been working with The Answer and youth programs
in Grand Forks since 1994.
Taylor-Heines began by giving a brief overview of organizations that she works with and of America’s Promise, which is a broad based alliance that works to ensure the well-being of children. She noted the list of America’s 100 Best Communities, of which Grand Forks is one of the selected. She informed the group that the mission of America’s Promise is to strengthen the character and competence of America’s youth and their Vision is to see that every child in America has the fundamental resources he or she needs to be ready for college, ready for work and ready for life and includes Five Promises – 1) Caring Adults, 2) Safe Places, 3) A Healthy Start, 4) An Effective Education, and 5) Opportunities to help others, all of which she would review in more detail. She stated that when they talk about youth they relate to those between Birth and 24 years of age. She added that the age has been increased to 24 because new research shows that the brain continues to grow and mature up to that age, rather than the age of 18 as used to be thought. She continued that this poses a particular concern in regard to alcohol and other substance use during the early 20’s when many instances of excessive use of those substances occurs.
She asked the group to list qualities and characteristics of the people that they would attribute to a person in their past that they feel influenced their life. She continued that all of the listed characteristics directly relate to the first promise – a caring adult for each child. She stated that the lack of at least one caring adult involved in the life of a child has documented long-lasting negative consequences. She continued that this adult does not have to be a parent, but anyone that the child connects with and looks to for guidance in their life.
Promise 2 is that youth have safe places to be when they are not in school. She added that it has been shown that there are peak times when problems occur and that having safe places where youth have adult supervision and can do constructive things greatly lessens the problems. She continued that it is important that there be places where youth can develop work habits and learn how to be successful. She gave an example of the Youth Build program for ages 16-24 where out-of-school youth have the opportunity to work through development modules and also work together to complete the building of a home for low income or homeless people, while working towards their high school diploma or GED.
Promise 3, relating to a healthy start for all youth promotes assuring that all youth have access to health care and a healthy lifestyle, which in turn lead to them being more able to fully participate in opportunities that they have. She commented that there is a dramatic increase in the obesity of youth in our society. She added that many schools are cutting sport programs and limiting physical education classes and opportunities due to budget constraints, our lifestyles becoming more sedentary with video games and television, and high fat, high calorie foods are prevalent.
Staley inquired if there is any research that has pinpointed which factors are the most contributing to the increase in obesity. Taylor-Heines responded that all of the factors contribute, along with the need for more parental involvement and guidance to get youth the nutrition they need and to help them establish the habits that they should develop to take with them into adulthood. Berger commented that at the local food shelf they are seeing that a lot of their donations are for foods that require preparation and that there is a growing lack of cooking skills, with everyone moving to wanting more convenience food that can just be heated up and that those foods tend to not be as nutritious as home prepared foods. Taylor-Heines stated that youth need to be healthy in order to be able to participate fully in the opportunities that we give them.
Promise 4 calls for effective education to be available to youth. She cited that research has shown that if a child can not read by the third grade they have a higher likelihood of not succeeding in life. She commented that the biggest impacter of youth success is having a caring adult that will instill healthy beliefs and common standards of behavior that are expected from the youth. She added that the education needs to extend to providing self-sufficiency skills so that youth have marketable skills as they move into adulthood.
Promise 5 states that youth need opportunities to help others, such as community service. She stated that we need to teach empathy to children as more and more they are coming to believe that violence is a normal reaction and this is mostly due to the prevalence of violence in the media through television, video games, and even daily life in some areas of the country. She cited several examples of real life situations where even adults are not responding to curb violence as they once used to. She added that by providing community service opportunities, we are helping our youth develop compassion and an attitude that may help them to get involved in their communities.
Taylor-Heines explained that communities need to enhance their protective assets. She continued that they can do this by creating healthy beliefs in the caring adults that support the youth in the community and that these beliefs need to be consistent and clear so that the youth get the same message. She explained that we also need to get the kids to connect and bond with the caring adults and this can be accomplished by giving a positive and consistent message to them. Taylor-Heines stated that we also need to realize that kids connect with different adults at different times and that is why it’s very important to make sure that the message that they are getting from all the adults in their life is consistent. She added that once the attachment of the adult to the child occurs, then the youth is more likely to want to try and succeed, as they will not want to do anything that will push away or disappoint the adult. She continued that there also needs to be sufficient skill building opportunities to create skills that are needed for participation in the other opportunities that we provide the youth and that we need to find a way to recognize the youth for the contribution that they make in the community. She commented that we are all the role models by default and that we need to keep that in mind in our actions.
Taylor-Heines stated that the first step a community needs to take is to complete a risk or needs assessment. She explained that we had done one in our community several years ago, but it seems like a good time to update that, as evidenced by the emergence of a few problems that had not been measured the last time we did our assessment, with those being meth use and inhalants. She commented that there is a new focus on underage drinking in the community and that problem also may need to have new data to compare with our old baseline info from several years ago. She pointed out that in the handout she provided there are a number of charts showing common risk factors and some behaviors that research shows occur when those risk factors are present in the community. She added that all of these statistics used by America’s Promise are research based and the sources can be found on the website and reviewed in total if anyone wishes to see them. She stated that another item that was not included in our earlier surveys was the effect that gang activity may be having in our community and that perhaps we need to add that. Once we have conducted our new needs analysis, we then need to compare our results with our prior info and also be sure to include up to age 24 in the surveys. She stated that we also need to look at a way of finding and measuring the strengths and opportunities that exist in our community.
Taylor-Heines explained that in communities that have adopted the five promises they tend to find that youth do better in school, tend to pursue higher education, enjoy better relationships with their peers and families, are less likely to engage in risky behaviors like drug abuse and violence, and are five to ten times more likely to become productive citizens in their communities. She continued that what we need to do is make children and youth a priority, focus on the whole child, collaborate to provide a holistic approach, and start early and don’t stop.
Taylor-Heines stated that to implement the America’s Promise in our community, a first step would be to establish some face to face focus group meetings to give the youth in the community a voice as to what they see as needs in the community. Along with this, she stated that the needs assessment must be completed, as this will show where the risks and gaps for protective factors are. She suggested that one way that some communities have called a meeting with all the agencies that provide youth services in the community and had those agencies put their nameand maybe what they provide for services under the age groups that they serve, then they review the charts and it can be very easy to see where service gaps might be. She commented that communities can also adopt additional promises that are specific to their community and that the main thing to keep in mind is that we want to get youth involved at all levels of the communit, including even at the City Council level. She encouraged them to work on connecting each youth with a caring adult and to provide leadership development opportunities. She added that those opportunities could occur anywhere – church, home, school. She stated that the hardest thing to overcome might be the collaboration, as often there are turf wars She said there are often hundreds of programs in a community, but people still may not know what is available and even between the organizations, they may not be aware of what each provides and to whom. She continued that there is often a lack of sharing of information between agencies and that may be a factor in service gaps developing. She commented that the other item that communities can provide is funding and that could be in the form of incentives or mini-grants to those that implement America’s Promise. She stated that seed money is usually a great way to get thigns started. She encouraged that all visit the website and register. She continued that there will be something coming out to all of the communities that were selected as America’s 100 Best Communities to help keep their efforts going, but that she can’t go into all the details at this time.
Haga thanked her for the presentation and stated that now the group needs to decide what our role should be in this process and whether we are going to be the doers or the advisers or both. Berger stated that she still feels the group needs to look at defining what the vision and goals are so we know what we want to accomplish and can then decide how best to make it happen. Rood added that we also need to get feedback from the kids as to what they think about our plans. Taylor-Heines suggested that maybe a starting point would be to ask the kids what they want from the adults, what a safe place would mean for them, what it means to them that we were named one of the 100 best communities, and how they would like to have a voice.
Staley inquired if there is a model that was used with the old youth commission that we could start from. Haga stated that the cabinet is meant to be the start of that and that the plan was that the cabinet, with the help of those involved with youth in the community would design the makeup of the youth commission and decide how the members should be selected. Haga asked Taylor-Heines what she would suggest as to how membership should be chosen. Taylor-Heines responded that she would suggest having youth serve side-by-side with adults on the commission, but knows that can pose problems with scheduling meetings as day conflicts with school and weekend with other activities. She continued that perhaps that could be one of the questions posed to the focus groups that are held with youth through the schools and agencies. She also recommended making sure to include some focus groups from alternative education different levels of school and for out-of-school youth.
Becker stated that rather than reinventing the wheel he would say we try and use what America’s Promise has put together and should definitely start promoting our award of being chosen one of the 100 best communities, as he believes there are a lot of people that do not know about this. He would like to see us look at ways to applaud what we are already doing as a part of this process. He added that there are binders of information, but we need to find a way to apply it and share it with the youth.
Rood suggested that perhaps we could use the established youth groups for the Answer as a starting point for the focus groups. She explained that those groups are in place now in each of the middle and high schools and range from a membership of 7 to 25 depending on the school and that when they meet they talk about alternative activities, causes of some of the problems that they see in the community and things that they’d like to see added to the community. Becker suggested that perhaps we could try and address some of our items on a topical basis with those groups. Rood stated that was a good idea and related some examples of some of the discussions that have taken place with some of the groups.
Taylor-Heines stated that we need to make sure and also find a way to include disadvantaged youth and maybe add some focus groups at church or recreational groups and to make sure and ask questions that will assist us in our long-range planning. She commented to also keep in mind that for youth to get all they can from school they need to be healthy and we should also try to include some questions for the focus groups that would address things like the last time they had a physical exam. She stated that research has shown that the busier kids are the less trouble they get in so we want to try and make sure our community has offerings that will hit all the age groups to keep them busy. She added that means we also have to look at diversity including culture and background in evaluating what we have and looking at making choices for new opportunities. She also suggested that perhaps some of those kids should interview an adult or parent as those answers can also be very interesting.
Burger inquired whether any of the information already obtained in the youth group meetings has been tallied at all. Rood stated that tomorrow there is a large meeting that will serve as a year-end wrap-up for the focus groups and that is what brings Taylor-Heines to town.
Haga concurred that perhaps the existing youth groups could be a good starting point and inquired whether it would be possible to get feedback from them at their next meeting. Rood stated that she will get the calendar sent out to Haga for distribution to the group. Metcalf inquired how the youth on the groups were selected. Rood responded that some were recommendations from school staff, but then at the first meeting they asked the members which groups they see in their school were not represented and people were then added to ensure that there was a good cross-section. Staley asked what some of the issues were that had been discussed in the groups. Rood stated that in the alternative ed group they talked about the desire to have a theatre, which has led to exploration of a partnership with the Fire Hall Theatre and Central High School’s group met with the new owner of Planet Pizza so she could get ideas for what students would want to see offered in that facility to make it a place that they would want to come and utilize which helps her make her business viable, which has led her to include a roller rink in her business plan.
Rood stated that she would also see getting started on a needs assessment Berger stated that United Way is also due to update their community needs assessment and perhaps they can see if there is a possibility of collaborating. She added that hearing from the youth is great but she still feels that this group needs to decide what they want to accomplish so that we can relate the information we get to our role.
Haga stated that the Mayor’s key goals for this committee are the creation of a youth commission which is sustainable and the creation of some type of community report card so that we can see we are fulfilling the needs of the community. Taylor-Heines stated that surveys are really good reports, also school data on academic performance is usually readily available and a good measure of the educational effort. She said that as a part of the needs assessment we can look at arrests, DUI’s, and then compare the findings to the baseline data that we have from the prior assessment.
Haga commented that in looking at the 5 promises he would also see us looking at what is a caring adult for our community. Taylor-Heines responded that is very important and that typically you want to look at those people as not being drug users or pedophiles, and looking at people that are involved in the community in all different ways including things like Sunday school teachers, etc. She continued that we should look at agencies and do they have programs that are in safe places with adult supervision and whether or not we have sufficient early screening and detection programs in place to find problems and easy access to health care.
Becker commented that there are many good graphs provided in the America’s Promise information and asked Packett whether there were any thoughts that he could add related to what we could do to reach the 10% that typically are the cause of most of the law enforcement problems in the community. Packett responded that many of the problems they see have an environmental factor which leads to their development, often one that is generational, and if we can find a new way to try and correct it or break the cycle that could have a large effect. He added that in our community, as is the norm for most, 35-40% of the youth related crim is committed by 10% of the youth in the community. Taylor-Heines stated that there are three stages to affecting crime – prevention, intervention, and treatment. She continued that she would see our focus being on prevention and that can be anchored by making sure that the adults involved in our programs are consistent across the programs and that if they see cases where intervention is necessary that gets taken care of by the appropriate agency. She said that while we would like to see 100%, being able to get to a community success rate of 90-95% is good and something to be proud of. She added that she can agree that most of the problems usually stem from environmental influences and that is something that we can work to improve. Packett stated that he can think of many cases where once we break the cycle we can eliminate the problem and that often only takes one adult with a positive influence on a child.
Staley commented that America’s Promise seems to be dead on with what we would like to see in our community. He continued that the Park District has begun to introduce several programs that have been one-on-one experiences with mother/son or father/daughter and they have been a huge success, probably partly because everyone is so busy they think they don’t have the time for that type of activity like they used to, but if someone can set it up for them they love to go. He inquired whether that is something they should look at doing more of mentoring type programs as they start looking at new things they could offer. Taylor-Heines stated that was an awesome programs and that the group could also look at encouraging other programs with youth supporting youth. She said one other area that they need to look at is where everyone is getting their resources and if possible, where there is duplication, and then look at ways to try and eliminate the duplication and work on trying to encourage collaboration instead.
Becker brought up the Teen Page in the Grand Forks Herald. He stated that he feels that it is a great way to reach out to youth. He asked if anyone knew whether kids relate to this page or if it only attracts a certain segment both for readers and contributors. Rood stated that the Herald representatives that deal with this page will be at the meeting tomorrow and she can try and get some information. Burger said that even if it only reaches a certain group, it still gives them an outlet that they wouldn’t have otherwise.
Haga stated that he wanted to clarify the next steps the group wants to take and the timeline that they want to have. He continued that he has done that Rood will get a list of the youth group meetings to him so that it can be distributed to all members of the group and that we also are needing to identify other areas where there may be youth gathering that we need to target, such as out of school hang out spots. Rood stated that following the wrap up and planning meeting tomorrow she will forward on a copy of the outcomes to the group members. Staley commented that perhaps once the group reviews this information they can look at it and get a sense of how to proceed to try and set a vision or goal for the cabinet. Jeske inquired whether there were any groups at UND that could be used as a starting point for a focus group for that population. Berger stated that maybe the emerging leaders group.
Haga stated that the cabinet was originally not intended to meet on a monthly basis, but it seems that it is lending itself to maybe needing that frequency until we finalize how we will proceed. Haga will notify the group of the next meeting date, probably in early May.
Taylor-Heines spoke with the group briefly on the Youthbuild program. She stated that this would be similar to the Job Corps Program, in that it is open to out of school youth from ages 16-24. She continued that they work through educational modules and at the same time spend time learning practical work skills as they construct housing for homeless or low income people. She stated that the goal for the youth is to have earned either a high school diploma or GED and to have developed some marketable skills by the time they complete the program. She stated that the program has been very successful in areas with extreme economic deprivation. Rood commented that she feels that this program may be a good fit in our community and wanted to make the cabinet aware of it.
Haga thanked Taylor-Heines for her participation in the meeting today and for all the good information that she shared.
Meeting adjourned 3:00 p.m.
Administrative Specialist Senior