Youth supporters rally in Merced, call for increased funding from city
BY JONATHAN WHITAKER | Merced County Times
About 100 protestors and activists, most of them high school students held a march and rally in downtown Merced on Tuesday to urge the city and its leaders to “Invest in youth by investing in the Merced Youth Council.”
Wearing bright orange T-shorts, with the words, “Invest In Youth” printed on them, participants marched from McNamara Park Youth Center down Martin Luther King Jr. Way, to Bob Hart Square.
The Advocates are encouraging the Merced City Council to significantly increase the budget for the Youth Council in order to develop leaders, provide a platform for youth inclusion and allow youth to interact effectively with the Merced City Council on issues that are important to them.
They say leaders are ignoring the will of residents who have repeatedly asked for more investment in youth programs at town hall gatherings and budget sessions over the past two years.
the city’s latest draft budget allows $13,000 for the 2-year-old Youth Council, up $500 from previous annual allowance. Administrators have also rolled out a long list of Parks and Recreation programs, Youth Center programs, and recreational area improvements to showcase the city’s investments for young residents during the current budget approval process.
However, community youth supports say the current funding for the Youth Council, made up of seven high school students (when all the seats are full), is only propping up an opportunity for a few who have limited reach to all teens in the region. They say a real commitment by the city would be upwards of $70,000 to create a solid plan for broad recruitment, extensive leadership courses, ad quality interaction that would produce results, including a more attractive, livable community for young people and their families.
“Part of our advocacy efforts is to help give young people a voice,” said Tatiana Vizcaino-Stewart of the Building Healthy Communities organization. “About 45 percent of the population in Merced is under the age of 24, and a lot of these young people have a lot to share that will benefit the city as a community.
School teaches us the skills to be successful, but we need our city to give us the life experiences to apply those skills.” – Cheng Vang.