University City mayor still pushing for regional approach to helping youth
After University City officials voted last year to scrap a bill aimed at controlling crowds in the Delmar Loop, Mayor Shelley Welsch said two new groups, one local and one regional, were needed to address issues involving youth in the Loop and the metropolitan area.
Welsch is continuing what she calls the pressing and challenging work of developing local youth into productive leaders.
It is a problem that extends well beyond city or county or state boundaries, she says. When asked about unrest in the Loop this past April, she noted that problems have to be addressed on a broader basis. And reports of difficulties because of large gatherings of young people have also come from other areas of the region.
Among changes that have resulted are extended curfews, a larger police presence and trying to increase activities for adolescents. Discussions have continued about ways to keep these kids out of trouble without stifling their need for social interaction.
Welsch says, “We need to do everything in our power to ensure the success of our youth, not only for their benefit but for the future economic health of our region as a whole.”
Through Welsch’s diligence, the Regional Initiative On Youth was established to examine this complex issue. An interim executive board started to identify problems facing regional youth. This body consists of 18 members and represents a cross section of educators, civic leaders and charitable groups.
Established in 2011, the initiative’s mission is to address the needs and concerns of St. Louis-area youth while building leadership skills and providing educational resources. Roundtable discussions it hosted in 2011 were designed to get public input and build a bond of community and local involvement.
Recent efforts by the board have concentrated on finding ways to pay for the initiative's goals. As Welsch said, “Funders have to buy into this and support it. Hopefully, they are looking into all gift areas to see how to focus our efforts so that we get more bang for our buck.”
Welsch provided an update on their most recent activities: “After our previous meeting at the end of April, the funders involved with the group proposed to meet to discuss if and how they could/would commit to the direction being set out for the Regional Initiative on Youth. … I have been told the funders have met and I should be hearing from Gary Dollar (president and CEO of United Way).”
She added, “As difficult as this wait is, I fully understand that a regional approach providing for our youth will be successful only if the local funding community supports the effort. So, I am waiting patiently with the hope that, in the months since we have met, members of the local funding community have discussed how they can be an integral part of this initiative. … Until we hear back from the funding group; meet again as a full board; and discuss next steps, we won’t know where we are heading. If and when the path is set, that will be the time (I believe) that a more permanent board will be established.”
The University City mayor remains confident of their success, “Our goal is to make sure that these kids get what they need from the community with specific regard to education, health and job training.”
Other board members understand the urgency in making things better for the youth of the region. Florissant Mayor Tom Schneider, who is also a member of the board, recently urged the exploratory committee to consider focusing efforts on doing everything possible to assist school districts in the region that were non-accredited or threatened to be non-accredited in getting back on track to full accreditation. Schneider says, “My opinion is that this priority is so important that all other concerns pale in comparison.”
When Welsch was asked about the work University City was doing to help youth prepare for the future she emphasized a youth employment program that “right now has an enrollment of 20 kids in the current programs. These kids are in real jobs, jobs that will help them for the future. There is education involved in these positions that will help them be ready for a bigger world.”
She also pointed to a “Taskforce For Seniors and Youth, which matches up seniors with youth to find a common ground for solving issues that face seniors and youth in University City. It is modeled after a similar program in Ferguson that had tremendous results.
“These programs,” she said, “are just part of the broad regional approach to helping our youth.”
When asked about groups of youth being disruptive, Welsch said, “Youth have always wanted to hang out. This is not any different than it was 45 years ago when kids wanted to be with other kids. In the last few decades the mall was the gathering place for these kids. But then malls set curfews, and they needed someplace to go. The difference is that kids today communicate instantaneously so they can meet and hang out faster than before. Since the crowds of kids are bigger, we need to, as a region, find options for these kids. They need something more to do than hanging out. Another problem is that, with the economy being what it is, many adults are now holding jobs that were held previously by kids.”
Welsch says this has been an important issue for her, even before the incidents in The Loop this past April. “I believe that regional approach to this issue is needed and I have been working on the Regional Initiative on Youth and our own Youth Employment Program. These programs will help make these kids leaders for tomorrow.”