Youths have a new advocate with the re-creation of the Harford County Youth Commission, a 21-member panel that will plan and coordinate youth activities, advance their issues and promote a wholesome environment for young people.
The County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to re-establish a youth commission that has been defunct for at least 25 years. It will include government officials, representatives from law enforcement, education and the courts, as well as six teenagers, one from each council district.
"Who better to tell us about youth needs than those who have those needs?" County Executive David R. Craig said at a news conference last week at the McFaul Activity Center. "This commission will be a venue for many organizations to promote opportunities for youth that will help them grow and excel."
The center is home to the Bel Air Boys & Girls Club, one of four in the county that annually draw about 3,000 children, ages 6 to 18. The commission could help those clubs recruit more members, said Derek DeWitt, director of program operations for the county clubs.
"This will help us raise awareness of our clubs and our resources," DeWitt said.
The idea for reviving the all-volunteer commission flowed from an effort, coordinated by the YMCA of Harford County, that brought youth program providers to focus on children's issues.
"Our goal has always been to help youth learn and succeed," said Chuck Rose, director of the Ward Family Y, based in Abingdon.
The commission will mean that the groups working with youths throughout the county can pool resources, information and programs.
"This brings everyone to the table," said Carol Taylor, director of FACE-IT, a faith-based advocacy group for children and families. "In one stop, you will find out what everybody is doing and what every organization has to offer."
Sheriff L. Jesse Bane said bringing teens into the planning will keep them interested in the programs that are developed.
"We plan a lot for youth, and we don't include them in those plans," he said. "If you want an idea to work, you have to include the stakeholders."
District Judge Mimi Raffel Cooper said the commission will show youths that adults are willing to listen to their concerns and act on them. It will also lead to safer communities for growing children, she said.
"The more we do for youth now, the less we will see them in court in the future," she said.
Organizers say commission members will promote and enhance county youth organizations, programs and facilities. They will identify the needs of local youths and offer them opportunities and alternatives to drugs, gangs and violence.
Members will work closely with churches, schools and community organizations to design activities that involve the entire family. In an effort to better serve the needs of youth, the commission will keep officials apprised of youth-related issues and concerns.
It will be authorized to seek additional funding for its programs through government and private grants
"This commission will have the ability to put resources into place," said Mary Chance, director of Community Services for the county.
Bane said he expects to gather valuable information from the commission's efforts, especially from the youths who serve on it.
"The only way to move to a productive, caring society 10 or 20 years from now is to invest in our youth today," said Bane. "I am a strong believer in prevention. We must put our efforts and our dollars up front with these children so that we are not putting money into the rear of this process, which is the correctional system."