Youth supporters rally in Merced

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.
Vizcaino-Stewart added that it was “exciting to see so many young people energized and actively participating in the effort for change.” Several students spoke at the rally, including Cheng Vang, a 15-year-old Buhach Colony High School student. “School teaches us the skills to be successful, but we need our city to give us the life experiences to apply those skills,” he said. “Because coming from a poor family with parents who had no education and knew very little English, the Youth Council can be a place for me and other youth to gain the experience we need to be successful adults.” 
Jesus Duran, 14, pointed out that it’s easier for young people to talk to other youth then to communicate with adults. “The Youth Council can represent us,” he said. “The Youth Council is our connection to the city. Youth have a voice, but the youth council can help us have a stronger voice so that we are included and taken seriously.” 
This article was provided in courtesy of the Merced County Times