Tuesday, August 14, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 23

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on August 29th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 26 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 26

Students voted to represent youth for city's task force


Santa Maria Valley students Janet Cruz-Reyes and Monserrat Nolasco were chosen over 11 other candidates to represent the city’s youth in various community projects, including the Task Force on Youth Safety.

The Aug. 25 election was hosted by the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), Central Coast Future Leaders, and Just Communities, according to CAUSE community organizer Abraham Melendrez. He said that more than 70 community members under the age of 24 showed to vote for their peer representatives.

The election, Melendrez said, is part of a larger report CAUSE is supposed to complete for the task force by Sept. 1. The report will highlight various recommendations to the city on ways to better include youth input on the task force and other community projects.

“We’ve had a lot of community members express concerns about community and youth not being involved,” Melendrez said. “So that’s why CAUSE jumped in to assist. Obviously if we’re looking at making policies and plans that will affect youth, it’s important to have youth representation.”

The city’s Task Force on Youth Safety is the result of a series of gang-related killings and an increase in violent crime in Santa Maria in 2015. The task force has already been scrutinized by a Santa Barbara County grand jury, which found various inefficiencies in the task force despite the city’s objections that it’s still too early to be evaluated.

The jury’s complaints—chiefly that the task force excludes the very community it seeks to serve—echoed those of some Santa Maria residents.

“The mayor and city are continuing to say they’re reaching out to youth, but we haven’t seen that youth around or coming out to meetings,” Melendrez said. “So we just really want the representatives there to speak for the youth.”

If the elected youth representatives are accepted by the city, Melendrez said they would attend the meetings and help give a voice to the younger residents of the Santa Maria Valley. The city has also suggested starting a youth committee that the new representatives would serve.

“I think these representatives would be a perfect bridge between youth and the city,” Melendrez said.

Elected youth representative Nolasco, a 17-year-old senior at Santa Maria High School, said she hopes to help her community by making it inclusive for every individual. For Nolasco, being involved in city projects is about improving her home.

“Now as a youth representative, I aim to put my passion into use and make positive change in Santa Maria,” Nolasco said. “I plan to represent all the issues youth see but are afraid to speak up about.”

Youth representative Cruz-Reyes, who has been president of the associated student body government of Allan Hancock College since May, said she hopes to advocate for those who can’t necessarily speak up for themselves. Cruz-Reyes, 19, has been a political science major at Hancock for two years, but she said she’s been an activist since her sophomore year of high school, when she was involved in several student committees and clubs.

Cruz-Reyes said it can be difficult for the city’s leaders to stay connected with the youth community. Having a representative from high school and one in college, Cruz-Reyes said, will help maintain that important collaboration.

“One thing is that sometimes we get shut down because we’re youth,” Cruz-Reyes said. “Sometimes the voice of the youth is not well considered. But we have to keep going and raising our voices.”

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