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Local teens help city find vision

Officials turn to youth advisory committee for ideas, designs

Posted: February 2, 2009 9:04 p.m.
Updated: February 3, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Santa Clarita Mayor Frank Ferry (right) sits with three members of the VIP (Visions in Progress), a city-sponsored group that gets teens involved with local politics. The mayor asked the teens how they plan on inspiring next year VIP students. Some of the programs the VIP program helped to develop are the skate park, honor grove and the sports w...

When city officials wanted to build the Santa Clarita Sports Complex a decade ago, they turned to the people who they hoped would use it most: local teens.

City officials set up meetings with members of Visions in Progress, the city's youth advisory committee, to circulate ideas about design plans and what the complex would offer as a way to create a place for the local youth.

Both sides liked the committee so much, it took root.

Visions in Progress, known as VIP among group members, is the city's answer to constant concerns from Santa Clarita's youth that their voices are not heard, Santa Clarita Mayor Frank Ferry said.

"If we decided what was best for teens and no one showed up, it was our own fault," Ferry said.

Visions in Progress board members look forward to the opportunity to represent their peers.

"I get the feeling here that we're actually making an impact," said 17-year-old Chris Johnson, the group's sergeant at arms.

"VIP plays an essential role in the expression of what the teen population has to say, and allows for effective political participation, as demonstrated by our various successes, including the Youth Grove and the Speak-Out," said VIP board member Elston He.

He was drawn to the committee after a challenge from city officials about how to improve the city's bus system for the local youth.

After proposing the idea of a Summer Bus Passport program for students, the city put the program into effect.

"Through VIP I feel that I've not only contributed to my local community, but given the youth population as a whole a greater voice in community affairs," He said.

For much of the group, it's a way for students to figure out their future plans.

VIP chairman Anish Sawant, 18, Johnson and He are seniors at West Ranch High School and plan to attend top colleges in the fall to study either political science or philosophy.

"You're not only investing in the community, you're investing in yourself," Johnson said.

The membership base for Visions in Progress rotates as students graduate high school, which brings a change in the group's vision.

One year, the committee pushed for a local dance club for high school bands and dances.

This year, the students focused on increased awareness about Visions in Progress and solicited input from a broader mix of high school students.

Students involved in VIP go through an application and election process before they can become a senior board member.

The roughly 50 VIP members also volunteer in the community.

Recent volunteer projects include the annual Santa Clarita Marathon and Make a Difference Day.

Veronica Navarro, community services coordinator for the city, is able to witness the maturation of members who come in as freshman and grow through their senior year.

"They're great leaders and positive role models," she said.

Visions in Progress represents students at all of the local high schools, which creates leaders at each campus.

"You just never know when you're going to touch someone's life," Navarro said.

Ultimately, the students take pride in their accomplishments.

"What we as teens said actually changed something," Johnson said.


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