Event will gauge youth’s needs

Published 8:45 pm Saturday, January 24, 2009

Kids in this city have a lot to say.

Next week, they’ll have a chance to say it.

The Suffolk Office on Youth is presenting the first Youth Symposium

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from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 31 at the Hilton Garden Inn. The event is free and open to youth ages 11 to 18. City officials hope it will help them get the cold, hard truth about the issues most affecting Suffolk’s youth.

“This forum is specifically to bring in other youth to hear what they have to say about the issues that matter to them the most,” said Jennifer Branham, Suffolk’s youth services coordinator. “We want to hear what youth across the board have to say.”

While the Suffolk Office on Youth is presenting the event – along with partners, the Western Tidewater Community Services Board and Suffolk Parks and Recreation – this event really is for youth, by youth.

Newly sworn-in members of the Youth Advisory Council will host and facilitate most of the conversations.

The Youth Advisory Council is made up of 25 students who meet twice a month to discuss current youth safety concerns and to help develop solutions for those problems.

The group updates City Council on the issues it finds most important.

Through a series of surveys both before and after the advisory council was put into place, Branham helped identify the top four issues among the city’s youth: gang awareness, leadership, civic engagement (community service) and peer pressure.

Gang awareness has been a priority for city leadership since the beginning.

“They wanted to see out of that Suffolk Youth Initiative a focus primarily on helping youth to become more aware of gangs and gang violence,” Branham said. “We can now actually give them an avenue – in terms of having a voice in the city that matters the most to them – to really discuss these things.”

The symposium will feature live entertainment, giveaways and a free lunch, in addition to the workshops and roundtables.

Youth interested in attending next Saturday’s event must register by 5 p.m. on Jan. 29. To register, they must contact Jennifer Branham at 514-4503 or Rickeda Fofana at 514-4509.