City Council continues support for region’s youth

THURSDAY, JAN. 14, 2010

Youth Department faced budget ax in December

Supporters and staff at the Chase Youth Commission and the Youth Department drew a huge sigh of relief just before Christmas, when the Spokane City Council approved Mayor Mary Verner’s budget without cutting the Youth Department.

“We were a little nervous for a while, but the majority of the council was solidly committed to youth and that is a very good thing,” said Joanne Benham, youth director for the city of Spokane.

It was Councilman Bob Apple, who spearheaded the idea to cut the Youth Department.

Benham said she never heard from Apple, and her biggest worry was that she had found out about the proposed cut too late to raise support for her department.

“We had somewhere around 75 letters of support that came in that week, I think that’s pretty amazing,” said Benham. “I understand that the budget is tight and things may change. Still, I think the commitment to youth will live on in some way or another.”

One of the Youth Department’s big undertakings is the annual Chase Youth Awards. The deadline for this year’s awards is Friday.

By the end of last week, 50 nominations had arrived and Benham expects to see at least 200 from all over the county.

“The group nominations drive the number of kids up because they may include 20 or 30 kids in the same group,” said Benham.

Last year, two fake nomination letters were written by a student at Lewis and Clark High School. One led to the nomination of “Peter Hazel” – who doesn’t exist – and the other led to the nomination of a real student from Rogers High School, yet that student’s story was largely fiction.

“When he was contacted by the community judges, he said he didn’t do the things that were in the letter,” said Benham.

To avoid situations like that in the future, the Chase Youth Awards are now asking for two references and both must be from adults.

“We have always asked for references, but now they can’t be your friends,” Benham said.

It added to the confusion last year that information had already gone out to local media outlets before the fake nominees were discovered.

“We kept trying to track that kid down and once we found out what was going on, we didn’t get that information back to the media,” Benham said.

The Chase Youth Commission has just launched an anti-bullying initiative in conjunction with Spokane Public Schools.

Benham said this effort is a result of last year’s Dropout Prevention Summit.

“We asked: ‘What’s driving you out of school?’ A lot had to do with relationships or lack of relationships at school,” Benham said.

“The students who dropped out said they felt so unsafe at school, they just wanted to get out of there.”

Students on the Youth Commission and the Teen Advisory Council decided to do something about that problem.

“They contacted Spokane Public School administrators, and had a conversation about this,” said Benham.

“One problem is that students don’t feel safe reporting bullying – so we have been working with the district, to build understanding between youth and adults, learning from each other.”

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