Merced Must Invest In Its Youth, Or Face A Grim Future

August 25, 2014 /

photo: Jordan Cowman

by: Aaron Jimenez

Ed Note: Since the economic downturn of the mid-to-late 2000’s, Merced’s Parks and Recreation department, which houses virtually all of the city’s youth services, has had its budget slashed. Some services (like the drop-in youth centers in south Merced) have disappeared, while others have become less accessible (like city sports leagues that have increased fees, the Boys and Girls Club which has been forced to scale back program hours).

Aaron, 17, an active member of the Invest In Our Youth Coalition, explains why it is imperative that Merced elected officials take a long hard look at how they are investing in the next generation.

On Monday June 16th, the Invest In Our Youth campaign held a rally in downtown Merced to show our city leaders that the community wants to see more investment in youth services. Over 60 youth and adults came out in the hot sun to support that message. Afterwards, many of us marched several blocks to City Hall for the last budget review session of the year. During the session more than a dozen people of all ages and backgrounds stood up and gave personal
testimonies that urged the City Council to create a budget that would reflect our voice.

For the most part, our cries fell on deaf ears.

City Manager John Bramble presented a draft budget to the council for 2014-2015 that had no significant additions to youth programs or youth services. Later that night, despite councilmember Belluomini’s attempt to respond to the community (with councilmember Lor’s support), the council voted 5-2 to pass a budget that preserved the status quo.

Growing up in Merced I’ve always been in and around poverty and by extension, surrounded by
disenfranchised kids that just didn’t feel like they were important. Many of my friends and peers
weren’t involved in anything productive outside of school, didn’t have a support system to find jobs or learn life skills, and some sought an outlet in gangs and drugs.

Statistics reflect my personal experience: Merced County has the highest youth poverty rate in the state, at 30 percent. Add that to the fact Merced’s population is 30.7 percent people 18 or under, and you get a very grim picture. This never felt right to me.

That’s why earlier this year I got involved with the Invest In Our Youth campaign. Led by local youth, organizations and residents, we collectively asked our city leaders to do their part by providing city support for summer jobs programs and recreational opportunities for youth.

We wanted funds in the 2014-2015 city budget to help extend the Boys and Girls Club’s hours
of operation and open the Stephen Leonard and McNamara youth drop-in centers that are currently closed. We did phone banking and door-to-door canvassing to show City Hall that this is an issue the community cares about. We interviewed over one hundred local businesses to show that employers would participate in a summer jobs program if the city helped support it.

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