photo: Jordan Cowman
by Deborah Juarez
Ed Note: 13.5 percent of Merced county’s youth are not working or in school, either full or part time, according to the 2010 Census American Community Survey. This is the highest percentage of disconnected youth in the state. Building Healthy Communities’ initiatives are helping residents and youth become more civically engaged. Deborah, 17, chronicles her own journey in becoming civically aware and engaged in her hometown of Merced and wonders what Merced can do to get more of it’s youth to do so as well.
People actually come to City Council meetings in Merced?
Just a few years ago, I didn’t know what was going on in my community of Merced. I was completely ignorant, thinking that there was nothing I could do to affect my community, that I had no say in what happened in my own city.
This changed during the summer vacation after my sophomore year when I went to a Building Healthy Communities youth group. I learned they were advocating for the reopening of the McNamara pool in south Merced. I was even more surprised when they showed me a clip of them on television. In Merced? A place where, I believed, nothing ever happened.
Since joining, I’ve participated in events like a Transportation Forum last spring and a Youth Candidates Forum last fall. I’ve even attended some of the City Council meetings that I didn’t know existed before. As I’ve gotten more involved I’ve begun to wonder, why don’t more young people know what is going on in Merced?
Late last year, We’ced Youth Media and BHC partners surveyed 462 youth in Merced to get a sense of how they felt about getting involved with their community and what the city could do to help. When asked if they felt Merced’s City Council cares about Merced’s youth, 41.2 percent felt the Council did not care, while 50.9 percent felt like the Council ‘somewhat’ cares. That statistic stood out to me because at one point I felt the same way. Additionally, 90.3 percent of youth surveyed felt the city could be doing more to hear from youth in Merced.
I spoke with Josh Pedrozo, a City Council member and a teacher at Merced High School. Son of Merced County District 1 Supervisor John Pedrozo and elected to Merced’s City Council at the age of 26, Pedrozo is a firm believer in giving back to the community. I asked why young people should be more involved in the community and he said that they need to realize the community is as much theirs as it is anyone else’s.
“They have to realize that they spend money in the community, they live in the community and they work in the community,” said Pedrozo. “It is their city also.”