It’s no surprise that the city of Spokane’s youth department finds itself in the budget-cutting cross hairs during economic bad times. Small agencies with specific constituencies are often targeted as expendable when costs have to be cut.
Still, City Council member Bob Apple’s recent remarks do grab one’s attention for their harshness and shortsightedness.
According to Apple, the youth department and the regional Chase Youth Commission provide “absolutely zero benefit” for the young people of the community, except maybe for presenting Chase Youth Awards.
Really? Not that the annual awards program isn’t a worthy endeavor, but it’s hardly the only positive impact the youth department has on lives.
About a decade ago, as one memorable example, an East Valley alternative school student named Zac McGovern was tabbed to join a delegation of Spokane civic groups, including the Chase Youth Commission, to make the case in Olympia for an $80,000 grant from the state Juvenile Justice Commission. The self-described at- risk student carried the presentation, describing his role in a project to establish a skate park and stressing that he didn’t want to let down the adults who had supported him.
Spokane got the grant.
Today, McGovern is in an elevator-building trades program, manages two bands and has launched his own sports apparel business. He credits his experience with the youth department and other organizations that showed faith in him for improving his school performance and leaving a lasting mark on his self-assurance. He also credits his mom.
That’s one story. Countless Spokane-area kids from a variety of backgrounds have others, most of which reflect the city department’s strong emphasis on civic responsibility and community engagement.
The Spokane program has routinely been honored by the national America’s Promise program, founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Michael Mann, head of school at New Jersey’s respected North Star Academy prep school, says the Spokane model is one being followed by the city of Newark. Mann is a former Chase Youth Commission member.
The problem with simply eliminating easy budget targets is that it is hard to restore them from scratch when the economy rights itself. There’s no question that the rocky economy demands painful sacrifices. The Spokane youth department can’t expect to be immune from that, but the community deserves to have budgetary decisions made by council members who know what’s at stake.