by: Alyssa Castro
photo: We’Ced Instagram
Nearly 90 people gathered at McNamara Park on April 17th to hear and support a clear message: the City of Merced needs to invest in youth. The official launch of the “Invest In Our Youth” campaign to augment funds for youth services in Merced’s city budget drew a crowd of local business owners, youth, organizers and residents.
In front of the McNamara pool, re-opened two years ago because of the work of organizers and youth advocates, Kelly Turner of Youth I Can and Symple Equazions hosted the event by highlighting youth employment and recreational opportunities as vital to the future of Merced’s youth.
Oscar Torres, owner of J&R Tacos, spoke at the event to show that local businesses are willing to support giving young people job opportunities. “Youth employment is more than creating jobs, it’s about creating hope,” said Torres. Oscar also mentioned his young daughter as an inspiration, noting that she will be growing up in Merced.
Irene Lopez, parent of a Merced teen, spoke in Spanish about wanting to change the negative stereotypes about Merced by providing young people more opportunities.
Afterwards, Aaron Jimenez came to the podium to give a youth’s perspective. He shared the frustrations he’s personally felt trying to find a job in Merced. He spoke about the importance of having a job and recreational opportunities for youth not just as ways to make money or keep young people busy, but as ways to develop mentally and open more possibilities for the future.
The crowd was excited, cheering when they would hear something they liked. It was inspiring to see folks from different walks of life coming together to support the future of Merced.
Merced County has the highest jobless rate for teens in the San Joaquin Valley, with an unemployment rate for 16-19 year olds twice the rate for those over 20. Raising the issue of investing in Merced youth is certainly important in the face of such widespread unemployment. As Jimenez said at the press conference, “all we want is a chance. We’re willing to work for it. Are city leaders willing to work with us by making the investment?”