WHITING — From concerns about potholes and crime to encouraging participation in community events, the teens analyzed the past, present and future of the city and Lake County during the Legacy Foundation’s On the Table countywide day of civic conversation.
The objective of the recent exercise was to encourage the students in Trevor Reece's class at Whiting High School to discuss issues affecting their community and the impact the teens can have on the community and county. Classes at Whiting High School were among the more than 140 groups hosting conversations with more than 3,400 residents about the future of Lake County.
Merrillville-based Legacy Foundation Inc. is one of 10 community foundations across the U.S. replicating the countywide day of civic conversation with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Working in small groups, the students engaged in lively discussions based on five questions Reece projected on a screen. One person in each group was chosen as “a scribe” to create a Google document of the discussion points.
“Talk more about community and how we can make it better,” Reece told students as they began.
The students were asked:
• “What can we do to create a stronger Lake County? How can we work together with other communities across the county?
Spencer Weston, a 15-year old sophomore, noted BP is a main source of income in the area and has strengthened the economy. Junior Alena Baez, 16, said Whiting and other communities need to “raise more awareness of crimes rates in the area.” Also important “is participating in more community events, parades, fairs, flea markets,” she said.
• “What are some positive assets and characteristics of our community? How can we build off these to strengthen our community?”
Among Whiting’s positive assets cited by Sergio Hernandez, 16, are the lakefront and “how it brings people here. There’s connectivity. You can walk to different places.” Fellow junior Angela Jovceski, 16, said there are many activities that highlight the cultural diversity, including Pierogi Fest.
Erika Jaramillio, a 16-year-old sophomore, also cited the diversity of the community as an asset, an idea echoed by Reece. “Whiting is a melting pot. We have Latinos, African-Americans, whites,” the teacher said.
• “What do you currently do to make your community a better place? How can others get involved?
Sophomores Renee Patton, 15, and Kevin Torres, 16, recommended organizing fundraisers and volunteering with area groups as part of the students’ extracurricular schedules.
“Help support local businesses by spending money,” Weston suggested.
• “What are some areas that need improvement in our community?”
The number of potholes throughout the area created a buzz in one group, while making people aware of the crime rate and violence in Lake County led to discussions about increasing the outreach of the Whiting Police Department’s Crime Watch Page on the city’s website.
Another group said Whiting needs “more kid-interactive places” where youngsters can learn to build things.
Legacy Foundation will award 10 $1,000 Community Action Awards to support the implementation of ideas coming out of On the Table conversations. Reece encouraged students to apply for those grants “to make your community a better area.”