“Who wants Columbia to be one of the top 100 places for young people to live?”
That was the question organizers of Let’s Talk, Columbia! posed to the nearly 70 community members who attended the Community Action Meeting at the Days Inn Hotel on Tuesday night.
The response from the audience was a round of applause.
After a spike in crime last fall, organizers of the annual Let’s Talk, Columbia! decided to focus this year’s forum on the issue of crime and youth in Columbia. On Feb. 22 and 23, the forum got its start with the Let’s Talk, Columbia! Summit, where community members came together to share ideas of how to address the problem.
Tuesday night’s meeting was focused on putting the ideas discussed at the summit to action.
Attendees were given handouts listing the action ideas generated at the summit, which included the suggestion to create a city teen council, form more effective after-school programs and encourage more adults to volunteer with youth.
Organizers said they think that if some of these suggestions are implemented, Columbia will be made into a safer place for young people to live.
“People are genuinely interested and involved in this process,” event organizer Nannette Ward said after the meeting. “There was an energy that will keep this moving forward.”
Attendees were also given a list of The Five Promises for America found on the America’s Promise Alliance Web site.
The five promises are: caring adults, safe places, a healthy start, effective education and opportunities to help others. After receiving a brief explanation of each, attendees were asked to gather into groups based on which promise their action idea best corresponded with. Groups were asked to share names and contact information in order to later work together to see their ideas come to action.
Jon Boldt, who volunteered as a facilitator for Let’s Talk, Columbia!, said that one of the best things he got from the event were the five promises.
“What it comes down to is people taking personal initiative and becoming more involved with youth and in the community,” Boldt said.
Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser was also in attendance Tuesday. She said she is working to put together a list of potential programs for young people, which she hopes to show to the city council this spring. Nauser said she has looked at youth councils in other cities and is also looking into providing more pre-school early childhood education to the public. She said she feels that this is particularly important since children who are unable to attend preschool start out two or three years behind their peers.
Most people in attendance mentioned that they were glad they were given the opportunity to talk about the problem of crime and young people.
“We need more circles,” Julio Lorio said. “More listening than talking, and more youth.”
Some, though, said they felt there needs to be less dialogue on the problem and more action.
“We came together four years ago and talked. Those young people need more,” said Lorenzo Lawson, executive director of the Youth Empowerment Zone. “Now let’s do something.”