Portland Youth Bureau

 

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My Thoughts on Providing Better Opportunities for Portland’s Youth

 

My plan to help at-risk kids get the after-school enrichment they need is one with roots that go back many decades. In this case, we should learn from our past as we prepare to address our future.

When we look at making our City safer and more equitable, we must consider the opportunities we provide for our youth. For 40 years, wealth and privilege have played too strong a role in determining the extracurricular pursuits of Portland’s children and teenagers. This is not just unfair, but deleterious. Kids with nothing to do are at a higher risk for dropping out of high school, pregnancy, drug use, and gang membership. As they suffer from these predicaments, society suffers as it struggles to help get them back on their feet.What the City of Portland must do is to reestablish a dedicated bureau tasked with promoting the health, welfare, and enrichment of Portland’s youth between the ages of 8 and 18. I say “reestablish,” because not only is there national precedent for such a bureau, but one also existed in Portland 40 years ago. Going without it has been to our detriment, particularly in an age when street gangs have proliferated and grown more violent and better armed.

A new Youth Bureau, run in partnership with the Bureau of Parks & Recreation and local nonprofits, would encourage and administer after-school programs for interested students. These programs would be diverse and plentiful: sports leagues, chess clubs, theater, dance troupes, arts classes, computer clubs, and language classes, to name a few. Everyone has interests, and the Youth Bureau can work to entice students to chase their curiosities and develop themselves physically, intellectually, and creatively. These programs would serve as motivation for students to work harder at school and would end “pay to play” for good. With an extra reason to do well in school in place, Portland’s students would not only live healthier, more positive lives outside of school, but would be driven to excel within the classroom, as well.

I propose that this Youth Bureau work alongside the Bureau of Parks & Recreation because it needs to be ideologically separate from the justice system and organizationally separate from the school system. Students must not be made to feel like they are being monitored by police, kept in extracurriculars solely to keep them out of trouble. Instead, they should be encouraged to take pride in their achievements and instructed by people without ulterior motives, even if those motives are positive, overall. Likewise, this Youth Bureau would be separate from the Portland Public Schools system so that it could be maintained independently of the state and county, and so that it could continue year-round, without having to accommodate the needs of the academic calendar. These activities should not be held hostage to the convoluted politics of the school system.

Some people might claim that Portland has better things to spend taxpayer dollars on than football, camping trips, crafts supplies, and costumes. Yet the cost of not engaging our youth is even higher. Day camp is cheaper than jail, and coaches are cheaper than cops.

If elected, I will help focus Portland’s efforts on its young people before they become a matter of law enforcement. We need to stop our current policy of neglecting our youth until they start to pose a problem. If we do not show interest in them, gang members, eager to recruit new blood, will. A well-run Youth Bureau is not only a matter of giving children and teenagers a better quality of life and education, but also a matter of public safety. Therefore, I will dedicate the same zeal to enriching these kids’ lives that I will to protecting Portlanders from crime

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