New Haven aldermen, facing a lousy economy and a tightening city budget, gathered Wednesday evening to discuss ways to preserve activities and employment opportunities for city youth.
“Let’s accept the fact that more funding is not coming,” New Haven Youth Commission Chairwoman and Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark said at the meeting. “We need to work on getting the local private sector to partner with neighborhoods instead of relying on public funding.”
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But for Clark, not all was lost. In her experience, Clark said, when budget shortages occur, communities have turned to more creative options such as volunteers for help. While working as the director for the Arts Council of Greater New Haven — an umbrella organization for art-based organizations in the city — she said she found that the program enjoyed the most growth when it experienced budget shortages.
“It’s not just about jobs,” she said. “It’s about resources. If organizations like the Boys and Girls Club could expand their services into more communities and schools, we’d have more engaged youth.”
The city may well need some of that creativity.
The city received 2,500 applicants for Youth@Work last summer alone, New Haven Youth Department Director Che Austin told the commission, an aldermanic subcommittee, but he said budget shortfalls forced city administrators to turn away more than half the applicants. The funding for the jobs the city was able to offer came from city and state governments and local businesses, he said.
In response, Ward 19 Alderwoman Alfreda Edwards, a member of the commission, said commission members should look for more money to fund jobs for the 1,300 youth who were turned away.
“It’s not about what we should do,” she said. “These programs have expanded every year, but, because we’re faced with budget cuts, we really don’t know what we can do.”
Austin sounded an upbeat note, however. In the past year, he said, private and public work sites in New Haven employed about 1,200 youth workers over a five-week period this summer, offered after-school employment opportunities to 200 students and held, in conjunction with New Haven-based Knowledge Network Co., a Microsoft Certification training seminar for 20 students.
The commission also discussed how to facilitate more civic engagement in New Haven youth. Ward 3 Alderwoman Jacqueline James advised her fellow commission members to be more creative in trying to find employment or civic-engagement opportunities for more youths, especially those in volatile or dangerous neighborhoods.
“There must be a better way to engage more of these adolescents,” James said. “The city must come up with more options to make sure that all applicants are given an opportunity to work.”
The Board of Aldermen will meet next on Oct. 6 at 7:00 p.m.