Spokane’s youth programs would remain independent from other nonprofit groups under a new plan that has support from Mayor David Condon.
Former Mayor Mary Verner, whose 2012 budget eliminated the city’s Youth Department, originally proposed contracting with the YMCA or other nonprofit groups to oversee youth activities and the Chase Youth Commission. But after opposition emerged from the commission, she backed a plan crafted by General Administration Director Dorothy Webster to give the money and oversight responsibilities to the commission and its partner organization, the Chase Youth Foundation.
City spokeswoman Marlene Feist said this week that Condon supports the concept.
Giving the commission oversight over the organization rather than the Y or another nonprofit will keep it focused on local government, City Council President Ben Stuckart said.
“Their missions are different,” said Stuckart, who said he strongly supports the decision to hand responsibility to the Chase Youth Commission and the foundation. “The danger would be that you wouldn’t stay true to that core, and over time that core would be diluted.”
In a meeting with some Chase Youth commissioners late last year, Webster said the city’s intent is to end all funding for the youth commission within three to five years.
“What we’d like to do is a ramp-down process,” said Webster, who was forced to retire by Condon just prior to him taking office. The city and county will provide a total of $108,000 this year and gradually lower that amount until the commission and foundation are self-sufficient. Last year the department was funded with $175,000 from the city and about $50,000 from Spokane County.
“It’s not our intent to, on Jan. 1, just drop you in a void,” Webster told the commissioners.
As part of the agreement, the city would require that the commission and foundation continue some of the events they’re known for, including the Chase Youth Awards and an annual candidates forum on youth issues, Webster said at the meeting last year.
Chase Youth Foundation President Erik Nelson said the commission and foundation will likely hire a part-time employee to handle duties that had been performed by the Youth Department’s two full-time employees. The foundation has spent about $20,000 a year to supplement Chase Youth events. He said without the Youth Department, the foundation will need to increase its fundraising, which got a boost when Condon decided to make the foundation the beneficiary of his upcoming inaugural ball.
The commission won’t drop other projects it’s working on this year, including one in the West Central Neighborhood focused on improving academic achievement, Nelson said.
Chase Youth Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson said the Youth Department closing could be a blessing in disguise, because without adult staff members to rely on, youth members will have to take on more responsibilities. Johnson, a junior at North Central High School, is a former member of the Seattle Youth Commission, which only has youth members. Teens will be more likely to stay involved if they’re forced to take more of the initiative and be responsible for keeping in contact with elected leaders, he said.
Nelson said the revamped commission hopes to create more opportunities for teens to work with City Council members and the mayor, but that will require leadership from youth.
“They’re really going to have to step up and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do and this is how we’re going to do it.’ ”