Teens want more to do and more places to go, so Kent city leaders want to join school district directors and community program heads to make that possible.
Surveys at youth forums at Kent Commons and the Kent Parks and Recreation Teen Center showed what teens seek.
“Two of the things that stood out was a safe place to hang out with their friends and more activities and programs during after school hours,” said Kendrick Glover, founder and executive director of GEM (Glover Empower Mentoring), at an April 2 City Council workshop about youth. “There is not too much for them to do after school unless they are involved in extracurricular activities.”
More than 130 teens, with the average age of 15, participated in surveys to let community leaders know what would make Kent a better place to live for youth, with a focus on those in middle school and high school and even young adults in their early 20s.
“We don’t want the perception that nothing is happening,” said Lori Guilfoyle, city senior Human Services coordinator, at the workshop. “There are a lot of programs in Kent. But a lot of kids aren’t participating. How do we find that niche program or activity to address the gaps. It’s about building partnerships.”
Guilfoyle said the youth center at Birch Creek on the East Hill attracts kids who live in the complex but other teens who live across from it can go to the center as well but don’t.
“How do we help young people come across the street?” Guilfoyle said.
Glover, whose community-based organization supports youth and young adults in the area, said the city, police and school district need to talk to each other to help get more youth involved.
“It’s going to take us as adults to put away our own personal issues and come up with a focused idea around youth and young adults with them leading the conversation and telling us what they want,” Glover said.
City staff and a 19-member panel of community members have been meeting and will continue to gather about ways to better serve teens. But the panel recommended that city and school leaders need to establish a leadership roundtable to build a stronger program and help youth become more involved.
“We would ask that the mayor and city council consider forming a leadership team to meet with the school superintendent and school board – two large, strong groups working for kids,” Guilfoyle said. “Our vision is about young people in this community. We need to sit at a table and begin with that. I know these things take time, but I hope what doesn’t happen is we let this fall by the wayside.”
Mayor Dana Ralph said at the meeting she would help move the effort forward.
“I met with Superintendent (Calvin) Watts last week and asked about how do we communicate better,” Ralph said about the Kent School District leader. “We talked about shared use of facilities – and the agreement we have had with the school district is about 100 years old. How do we use that space? The city is a convener – we have programs – but we need to fill in the gaps.
“I am absolutely wanting to do a joint meeting of the council and the school board and this could be the topic. And I want to do a quarterly meeting with the school district and council and then bring all of the players together.”
Guilfoyle said teens need to play a key role.
“We recommend a leadership roundtable with council members, the mayor, police chief, school board members and business leaders,” she said. “But we need to ensure the youth voice. They want to be involved in decisions that affect them.”
With 42 schools in the Kent School District, Council President Bill Boyce said it’s important to determine how to best use the facilities to reach more youth.
“A lot of schools have space that is not being utilized at night,” Boyce said.
Funding and transportation will be two major challenges for new programs.
Transportation is a challenge because the majority of students take buses to school, said Randy Heath, Kent School District executive director of Student and Family Support Services.
“Transportation is an issue,” Heath said at the council workshop. “We run some after school programs and there are kids who cannot attend if we do not have an activity bus.”
“Transportation is huge if they can’t get there,” Boyce said in response to Heath. “We have to solve that problem.”
As far as funding, the city and school district each face budget shortfall issues.
The council might be able to find private partners to fund a youth program, said Ted Dezember, King County Housing Authority senior resident services manager for educational initiatives.
“If we can bring this together and be more concise about what the partnership is and what the goals are, we might be able to go out and acquire the funding,” he said.
Specifics about what types of programs – whether it’s after school basketball, computer-based activities or whatever else – remain to be determined. But all who spoke and listened at the workshop seemed to agree, something needs to be done to make the city better for teens.
“We will get together with the school district and figure out how to make this happen,” said Boyce, a former Kent School Board member.