Ridgecrest’s Youth Energize City Government

City leaders wanted to give kids options for recreation and alternatives to getting in trouble.

In 1996, the City of Ridgecrest needed a progressive, positive way to address youth issues in the community. It established the Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) to foster the free exchange of ideas between the city council and young residents.

As a formal, standing committee of the city council, the YAC communicates with officials and city staff to identify problems, solutions and opportunities. Working closely with local officials, businesses and civic programs, youth are provided with the opportunity to achieve both long- and short-term goals. City officials, including Council Member Dan Clark and Police Chief Mike Avery, work personally with the committee to improve civic policy and youth involvement.

The YAC’s main goals are to provide safe entertainment and a voice for local youth. To achieve these goals, it has established many subcommittees, including the Skate Park, BMX (Bicycle MotoCross), Entertainment, Youth-to-Police Outreach, Website and Publicity/Community Service subcommittees. Each identifies its goals on an annual basis. New representatives are chosen from each school every year to form a leadership board, which elects a president, two vice presidents, a secretary, treasurer and sergeant-at-arms. The youth leaders are completely responsible for running their monthly meetings and reporting to the city council on progress made.

Dealing With Crime

Facing a rise in racial and discriminatory crimes in the community, YAC’s leadership board of 2003-04 established an ad-hoc committee to draft a document that would address the issue. To combat the problem, this group produced what is known as the Ridgecrest Pledge (see “Pledge Targets Bigotry” below).

After more than a decade of community work, the leadership board of 2004-05 decided it was time to create a logo to be used on all YAC-related documents and public facilities. The logo includes the YAC motto, “Our Youth, Our Action, Our Community.” The motto was developed to acknowledge youth’s active role in improving and advancing the community. The logo is recognized by local officials, businesses and residents.

Providing Entertainment

Approximately eight years ago, a group of young people presented the YAC with a request to build a city skate park that would allow kids to skate free of charge. After years of lobbying the city council and holding numerous fund-raisers, skate park proponents succeeded and the park was built. The Skate Park Subcommittee is responsible for maintenance and improvements to the facility.

The BMX Subcommittee has launched a similar effort to build a park for bicycle motocross enthusiasts, working with the city council and Parks and Recreation Department staff to verify the land available to them, secure adequate insurance and seek grants, sponsorships and donations to fund the park.

The Entertainment Subcommittee seeks new ways to provide free, safe entertainment for youth. It works closely with the Boys and Girls Club and the Parks and Recreation Department to find venues for local bands and identify programs that provide youth activities.

Connecting With the Community

The Police Department works with the YAC through its Youth-to-Police Outreach Subcommittee to establish a link between law enforcement and youth. A school resource officer from the Police Department attends YAC meetings. Through the subcommittee, law enforcement informs youth about what’s going on in the community and schools, and solicits their input.

The subcommittee also co-sponsors an annual open house event at the Police Department. In 2007, more than 500 community members attended and visited the facility, which opens every area of its operations to visitors during the event. The open house is an excellent example of open and transparent government in action. The YAC staffs a display at the event to promote its activities and show how young people can get involved in the community.

The Publicity/Community Service Subcommittee publicizes the YAC’s programs and activities. The community service group of this subcommittee works to increase support for programs directed at youth, involving more organizations and developing useful knowledge, experience and connections as well.

The Arts Council of Ridgecrest requested the creation of a subcommittee, led by one youth member from the Arts Council, to provide youth input. The new committee’s goals are to provide creative outlets for youth in the community who are visual and performing artists.

Devising Solutions

Concerned about drug and alcohol abuse among minors, Council Member Dan Clark asked the YAC for its support in raising the money to fund a 100 Voices Youth Conference focusing on substance abuse. In a six-hour, one-day forum, a group of 164 students assessed the problem, discussed possible solutions and developed aggressive action steps to combat local substance abuse, including the development of:

  • A 24-hour hotline;
  • A rehab center/halfway house/teen shelter;
  • After-school teen programs;
  • A teen night club;
  • More camps and parks facilities; and
  • A program to create jobs for youth at local businesses.

As part of its follow-up, the YAC is actively working with the Southern Sierra Boys and Girls Club to establish a Teen Center and after-school program. The Teen Center hosts open microphone sessions and local bands, among other activities. Between 30 and 50 kids participate in afternoon activities at the Teen Center everyday, and attendance increases for evening events.

The YAC is also working with city-sponsored Youth Employment Services to create more jobs and promote work opportunities for local youth.

Active Citizenship

The YAC promotes the concept of community responsibility to area youth and works to eradicate passive citizenship. Its activities help young people develop solutions to problems that affect them while learning about city government. The YAC in turn provides a conduit to the Ridgecrest City Council, directly communicating youth priorities and needs to elected policy-makers, and serving as a valuable resource for the community.

Contact: Karen Harker, administrative assistant, Office of the Chief of Police, Ridgecrest Police Department; phone: (760) 499-5105; e-mail: kharker@ridgecrest-ca.gov.

This article appears in the September 2007 issue of Western City
Did you like what you read here? Subscribe to Western City