Earlier this week, members of Amherst town council took possession of a proposed youth strategy that was prepared by child psychologist Dr. Lena Walker. While there will be some who will no doubt question the need to hire another consultant to prepare the strategy it should send a message to our young people that their opinions, wishes and fears are important to today’s adults.
Whether it’s fair or not, successful town councils have been accused of being unfriendly to youth or unwilling to take seriously what young people feel they need to make a solid contribution to the community. Unfortunately, in some cases, past councilors didn’t put much stock in the opinions of our youth because they could not vote and many of them left the community for opportunity elsewhere before they could cast ballots.
Recently, though, the town has started to listen. It created the youth town council and constructed the skate park next. It has sent the message to young people that their opinions do count.
Council has decided that it is time to take the next step by creating a youth strategy that makes Amherst more inclusive when it comes to the contributions of our younger generation.
Walker’s report has plenty of valid suggestions, one of which is the need for a facility young people can call their own – a place where they can go to meet, participate in their favourite activities and associate with their peers without having judgmental adults tell them what they can and can’t do.
Something similar was tried back in the mid-1990s with Project Echo in the former police station. While it had some success, it seemed to disappear when the funding dried up and the council of the day moved on to what it felt were more pressing matters.
While we are still months away from the implementation of a youth strategy, the mayor and council need to take the time to read Walker’s report and listen to what Amherst’s young people are saying. Today’s youth are much more savvy than their predecessors and they will not accept leadership that only pays lip service to their opinions.
Amherst’s new youth strategy needs to be more than a piece of paper and if a youth centre is one of the end results, the town needs to be prepared to give it the resources it needs to fully serve our young people and, using its youth town council, it needs to let the young people be the masters of their own destiny.