January 26, 2009
Group tackles problems facing area youths
Members of area churches organize discussion on ways to make things better for teens
Idle teenagers, low self-esteem and lack of empowerment opportunities for youths were all problems discussed Saturday as community members met with Rep. Michael Arcuri at the United Methodist Church in Cortland.
The venue for dialogue about the problems facing youths in Cortland County was organized by Moving in Congregations, Acting in Hope, a group of 11 congregations in the Cortland area that meets to discuss ways to improve the community.
Saturday’s forum broke into small discussion groups before Arcuri arrived and representatives from each group presented to him the main points that arose in their discussions, hoping he could impact future legislation that may address their needs.
“We thought about what kids should have to be involved in instead of going out and doing negative things,” 15-year-old Tricia Pittman of Cortland, said after the forum.
Pittman said her group discussed the need for alternative recreational opportunities for young people, mentioning specifically the need for dance groups, candy stores, book stores, roller-skating rinks, and a youth center that could provide positive activities.
“We came up with dance performances with kids and teen concerts,” Pittman said offering examples of activities that could be rewarding for children.
Tim Rodriguez, community outreach coordinator at SUNY Cortland attended the discussion to see what the perceptions are about the problems facing today’s youths. Rodriguez said a key point is empowerment.
“Youth have to ... actively communicate with adults, not be a separate population. They have to be active on issues and have decision-making power,” Rodriguez said, adding that a community center could be a good location for people of all ages to interact.
The Rev. Nathaniel Wright, of God’s Lighthouse of Praise, led his group that centered on the problem of low self-esteem among young people.
“What can we do to build up that self esteem?” Wright said and group members said the shortage of available jobs for young people contributes to that problem.
Arcuri said that the lack of self esteem is one of the most important things the community needs to address and said getting parents more involved in their children’s activities is very important yet also very challenging.
Arcuri praised the organization as the type of group that encourages community participation. Moving in Congregations, Acting in Hope is an affiliate of the PICO National Network of faith-based organizations that works to come up with solutions to problems facing communities.
MICAH formed in 2004 and focused on two goals in November 2006: providing more recreational opportunities for children in the Cortland area and reducing the number of uninsured children in Cortland County.
The group’s focus on the latter yielded success when Congress overrode the President’s veto of an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program last year. As a result, 11 million children became eligible for health insurance in New York.
The group’s goal is for every child in America to one day have health insurance.
“I am seeing a strong community response to the needs of the community ... They are not looking for the government to supplant (what they can do) ... but saying, here is what we are doing, (now how can) the government come in,” Arcuri said.
Arcuri said that one way of encouraging parent involvement could be making funding available to organizations such as parent teacher associations, when funding education.
Those who participated in the forum are hopeful that brainstorming and discussing the problems is a step in the right direction.
The Rev. Kenneth Lane of The Church at Freetown led one of the groups and said one of the biggest concerns raised was that of transportation for young people who live in rural areas.
He said youths in rural locations may feel isolated with no way to be around other people their age and without easy access to activities. He thinks church vans could be used to transport young people to events and after-school programs.
“There are not enough things going on that are good, wholesome things,” Lane said.
He stressed that Saturday’s forum is just a small part of what the group does, mentioning trips to Washington, D.C., and Albany that have been organized in the past.
Once a year the group hosts a public meeting with senators, congressmen and other leaders from the area to address issues that arise from the smaller meetings.
“When you get a lot of numbers, politicians listen,” Lane said.
MICAH will meet again at 7 p.m. Feb. 16 at St. Margaret’s Church in Homer and will discuss at greater length some of the issues that arose Saturday.
“We are letting people know what the real needs are. We find out through meetings like this, we listen and discuss and do an intense understanding of the area,” Lane said.
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