Youth funding increase draws support

A city staff report recommends increasing funding for youth programs next year by nearly 50 percent.

Evanston already spends over $355,000 of its own tax money on a summer jobs program for youth.

It also spends about $58,000 in grant funds on youth programs.

The report calls for:

  • Adding a full-time staff job for a youth coordinator.
  • Supplementing the existing police youth outreach effort with a new unit targeted to helping young women.
  • Creating a work-study program with Evanston Township High School.
  • Reviving the city's Youth Commission.

The proposals are the outgrowth of a Youth Engagement Initiative study designed to begin implementing goals outlined in the city's strategic plan.

Sheila McCorkle, a Northwestern University graduate student working for the city manager's office, says she researched existing city programs here and elsewhere and interviewed over 100 young people about issues they face in Evanston.

She said many young people she met, mostly in largely minority neighborhoods, say that despite being born and raised in Evanston they feel alienated from the commnity because of hostile feelings they encounter when they leave their own neighborhoods.

Assistant City Manager Judy Aiello said the plan for the coming fiscal year would raise local spending on youth programs to over $500,000. She said the plan envisions increasing total spending, including grants, to over $700,000 in subsequent years, but that the money isn't available to fully fund the program immediately.

Those numbers don't include funding for city recreation programs or parks used by young people, or factor in the cost of programs in the schools.

The study indicates young people want more inexpensive social activities and that youngsters tend to "age out" of existing social agency programs once they reach high school.

It adds that some activities available in the past have been cancelled after neighbors complained about noise and fighting among participants.

The report says the vast majority of young people want to find a job, but many fear they would waste their time in job-readiness programs that don't guarantee a job upon completion.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said the city needs to do more to help young people from ending up in a life of crime.

"Last year we allocated a bunch of money for trees," Ald. Jean-Baptiste said, "We have to make the youth of this community a priority now."

"We had a teen center when I was a kid," he added, "but then somehow it was transformed into a senior center, and we don't have a youth center any more."

Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, said, "We have to address these problems, we can't afford not to solve them."

Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, said she wanted to thank those who put together the report for "telling us things we didn't really want to hear but know are true."

"I think this community is more behind you and your report than you may realize," she added.

The committee voted unanimously to accept the staff report, but aldermen will have to return to the issue of funding the programs when they debate the city budget early next year.

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