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Frank Ferry: Introducing our city youth to Mayor Dude

Live from City Hall

Posted: January 1, 2009 3:32 p.m.
Updated: January 2, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 

Municipal leaders regularly make decisions, shape policies and take action on issues that directly affect youth.

Think of public transportation, parks and recreation, health, child care, education and housing.

Because young people lack access to official processes such as voting, they have few avenues for influencing decisions and policies. Youth who feel disenfranchised are even less likely to look for inclusion or to participate in decisions affecting their lives.

Engaging youth in decision-making processes leads to decisions that are more responsive and appropriate to youth's needs and interests.

As an example locally, our city parks staff thoroughly involved local skaters in the design of the new skatepark, assuring the design and construction accurately reflected the needs and desires of those who would be using this new skatepark.

This new facility (scheduled to open early next spring) is not the city's first or last shining example of involving our youth in a process that directly impacts them.

Meaningful youth participation involves recognizing and nurturing the strengths, interests and abilities of youth by providing them with opportunities to become involved in decisions that affect them.

There is no one right way to promote or blueprint youth participation in governance. The most successful youth involvement programs are those that incorporate a variety of approaches to meet and address the diversity and complexity of the youth issues involved.

In Santa Clarita, we've spent years working proactively with local youth, creating successful programs like our Visions in Progress teen advisory group, our Teen Graffiti Abatement program, Youth in Government program, Community Court program, Anti Gang program and even the Blue Ribbon Task Force, all to address youth issues.

While these programs have gone a long way toward reaching a segment of our youth, the number of those who traditionally participate is actually a small percentage of our local youth.

Bringing more youth into the decision-making process and into local government is vital. We need to involve this generation of young people in helping shape the future.

Enter Mayor Dude. Yeah, it's a funny name, and by now you're probably rolling your eyes. Mayor Dude is a bold new outreach effort aimed at reaching our youth to educate them about local government, about the community and to ultimately engage them in the decision-making process.

The program is being designed and created with youth to help strengthen the relationship between youth and their local government. It is aimed at sharing the importance of their participation in shaping their future.

In January, the city will launch www.mayordude.com, which will be used as a centerpiece to facilitate two-way communication with local youth.

We feel that the use of technology, something very familiar to most youth, is an excellent conduit for promoting communication. Online chats with the mayor, regular "Mayor Dude challenges," lots of links to items of interest locally to youth and a host of outreach efforts will be utilized to engage local youth (K-12) in our community.

We will also be reaching out to local educators, encouraging them to use this tool in their classroom to teach students about local government and the community.

We plan to offer school assemblies, special events and encourage curiosity about how government works and how youth can participate in it.

Special safeguards are being set up and all communications will be screened for appropriateness before posting to the site.

As this is a new program, we are going to be adding to it throughout the year with the goal of providing new and innovative ways of engaging our youth.

If you are interested in the program, or have ideas, I encourage you to send them along to Gail Ortiz, communications manager for the city, at gortiz@santa-clarita.com or to me at fferry@santa-clarita.com.

Thank you in advance for your interest, support and hopefully, your participation. We won't be able to do this without you.

Frank Ferry is mayor of Santa Clarita. "Live from City Hall" is a column provided to The Signal by the city of Santa Clarita. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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