LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Dover committed to provide ‘safe harbor’ for youth

I recently read that [Dover] City Council does not care about the youth of Dover. [“Dover wrong for dissolving Youth Advisory Committee,” Letters to the Editor, June 23] Nothing could be further from the truth.

Recently, I saw more than a dozen youth gathered together, in uniform, working as a team, as part of the Dover Police Department’s Dover Police Youth Academy. The academy is being held at the Murphey School and includes 18 youth who are being taught life skills, physical fitness, and team-building skills.

I then walked went over to the Dover Public Library and saw that the Sophia Russell Teen Loft included eight youth who were working in two separate groups as part of a summer reading program.

On weekday evenings, I’ve witnessed the Youth Summer Basketball Leagues sponsored by our Parks and Recreation team. The leagues include 130 youth and have sold out for many years running.

Timothy A. Slavin

Timothy A. Slavin

Program guides from the police, Parks and Recreation, and library show more than 30 programs for youth, ranging from the Outdoor Classroom meetings and the Girls Empowerment program offered by the police; to the weekly STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) workshops and 1,2,3, Andrés program (for music and dance) offered by the library; to the Kids Craft Corner offered by the Parks and Recreation team.

There are also family-based events: the Thursday night Concerts on the Green series is free, as is the Family Fun Film (“Zootopia”) which will be shown at the library on July 23. And please don’t forget the celebration of 50 years of Maurice Sendak, which includes a wide range of events throughout the summer at the library and the Schwartz Center for the Arts.

These programs change lives. They provide opportunity for learning and discovery where otherwise there may be no such opportunity.

These programs also provide a safe harbor for our city’s youth. What may sound like a simple and short one-hour program at one of our sites may mean that we have provided our youth with a safe place and a safe alternative to what they may face in other parts of their lives.

Giving our youth better opportunities and activities is something the city government will continue to strive for. But we should not be in this alone, nor should city government be looked to as the sole provider.

There are many wonderful partners in our community who are working toward this same goal: the Boys and Girls Clubs and the YMCA are two major providers of youth programming. City government would do well to look for opportunities for partnership, and we would do well to engage our youth in new and innovative ways.

When City Council recently voted 8-1 to close down the former Youth Advisory Committee, we did so with the caveat that our commitment to the youth of our city would not stop, nor be deterred. Our action was a simple one: we decommissioned a city committee which included eight youth members that was having difficulty with the (state) rules regarding operating as a public body. To a person, we felt that input from our youth is a valuable asset, but that we had simply chosen the wrong method to get that input.

Our mistake was that we asked young people to act like adult bureaucrats. The lesson we learned is that the next generation needs new ways to interact with government. We put in place a new method of gaining input from our youth — through focus groups — which is easier, simpler, and will prove more effective.

Moreover, how we raise our youth as a community is a conversation that needs to be had throughout our city. This conversation needs to be heard in City Council chambers, but also, this conversation needs to be heard at dinner tables and churches and barber shops and grocery store checkout lines and in our parks, and at our library. If we leave that conversation for others to have, we will be missing an opportunity to do something great for our community.

Much as Mark Twain said, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” so is the idea that City Council does not care about our city’s youth. We do. Our citywide programming for youth remains strong, as does our commitment to provide that safe harbor for our youth.

Timothy A. Slavin
President, Dover City Council

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