INSIDE WASHINGTON/NLC touts new families institute
Boston Mayor Tom Menino is not the first big city lawmaker to understand that providing his city’s youth with hope and guidance will reap both short- and long-term benefits for his community as a whole. But he may be one of the first to make that philosophy a central part of his administration.
Since his 1993 election, Menino has spearheaded the creation of programs to address the host of ills afflicting Boston’s youth. The public outreach and resulting relationships with parents, youths, community groups and clergy have made Boston a model for other cities to emulate.
And Boston is not the only community to experience success with programs targeting its youth. In fact, local lawmakers across the country are engaging young people to help guide the direction of their communities into the next century. Those lawmakers have scores of ideas and proposals about how to make their cities and counties better places to live.
Until now, however, there has been no repository of ideas that local officials could tap to learn about their counterparts’ successes with youth programs. A recent survey by the National League of Cities indicated that 60 percent of local leaders would welcome advice, technical help and proven examples of successful youth, education and family programs.
“No city has cornered the market on creativity,” Menino recently told the National Press Club. “So all of us are constantly looking for better ideas, and we can’t always wait for the next national conference to find out what other cities are doing well.”
NLC intends to solve that problem. Last month, the organization announced the creation of the Institute for Youth, Education and Families, an initiative designed to help cities anticipate problems and offer solutions. Menino, who led the effort to create the Institute, says, “It will not be the typical Washington think tank.” Instead, he says, it will be an “action tank.
“We have a responsibility to build strong, healthy families and communities, and we should begin by giving our children and our youth a great start,” Menino told the press club.
The Institute is the outgrowth of an NLC program started last year to include youth in the organization’s activities – including policy development. Last December, about 100 youth delegates participated in the 1998 Congress of Cities, and more are expected to attend this year’s Congress in December.
For the past year, youth representatives, along with lawmakers, business people and academic partners, have discussed strategies on three issues: * strengthening NLC’s commitment to support an agenda that highlights youth, education and families; * creating a Youth Advisory Board to allow teens a say on the NLC agenda; and * establishing the Institute.
Touted by NLC as a “leading edge broker and synthesizer of information … for communities across America,” the Institute will provide local leaders with technical assistance while also serving as an advocate.
It also will provide a central location for collecting information on initiatives such as Boston’s Summer Jobs Program, which put more than 11,000 teenagers to work this year; or Waco, Texas’s Lighted Schools, through which schools are used for community services such as pre-employment skills training, cultural enrichment and mentoring.
The Institute will be located at NLC’s office in Washington. NLC is currently raising funds for the Institute and is conducting a nationwide search for an executive director to oversee its operation.