Nearly 100 people packed the Heman Park Community Center in University City on Tuesday evening with one goal in mind—helping teens and young adults in the St. Louis metro area.
So many people showed up for the first that more tables and chairs had to be brought out.
"I am overwhelmed by the number of people who have come tonight," said University City Mayor Shelley Welsch, who spearheaded the youth forum. Other notable attendees included Vinita Park Mayor James McGee, councilmembers Lynn Ricci and Stephen Kraft, City Manager Lehman Walker, Superintendent of Schools Joylynn Pruitt, board of education member Rod Jennings, Jessica Bueler, President of the Loop Special Business District and Library Director Patrick Wall. A handful of people affiliated with religious organizations were also in attendance.
The participants ranged from elementary school age to retirees. After attendees were asked to share success stories about programs or initiatives that helped youth, people were broken up into groups of 7-10 people.
The groups were given 25 minutes to talk amongst themselves and then share with the room what opportunities and programs they would like to see in place for youth five to 10 years from now.
One teenager named Asia had a lot to say when her group gave its presentation. She said that while the adults in attendance were well intentioned, teen input is paramount.
"You guys want to start programs, but how can you start a program without asking our opinions on what we like and what we want to do...and you can go create something, but if we're not going to go because it's not something we want to do, it would be pointless. We don't want to waste any-ones time," she said.
Another teen noted that any solutions should not be solely for the "good" youth.
"At the end of the day the 'bad' youth are going to be the ones causing problems, it's not going to be us. So we have to talk to the other 'bad' youth and try and change their point of view and try to work with them so that we can come together and move on."
Several groups mentioned the formation of a teen center. "We want a place where we could hang out," said one teen. "We don't have a place where we can just hang out and lounge."
Other suggestions included:
- Multiple teen centers all around the area
- Fostering a closer relationship between teens and police
- More activity nights, such as boxing and basketball events
- Mentoring programs for the youth
- Teaching youth life skills
"Youth are an asset. We have to figure out how to leverage them," said one man. Another man noted that prevention is key.
"We need more action and less meetings," said one attendee. "When is the work going to be done? We’re ready to do work."
The participants said they'd like to meet again. The teens in attendance suggested the next step should be for teens to hold a town hall meeting and come back to the group with the results of that gathering.