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GUEST COMMENTARY: What's in a number?
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GUEST COMMENTARY: What's in a number?

McKenya Dilworth

McKenya Dilworth

Budgets are revealing. Before you stop reading, test the premise with a quick glance over your household budget. You will clearly see that the largest number could be interpreted as the priority item or service for your household to run properly. Now that I have won over the skeptics, let’s talk numbers and what they correlate with and to in ranking files of importance.

Budgets are guiding documents that reflect the priorities of whatever it is attached to, whether that attachment is an organization, group, school or governmental agency. One could assert that budgets highlight what is valued which is why the talking heads in the media have field days when the national budget, (based on what political party is in power) increases in defense and decreases in education.

So, if you accept this line of logic then consider the message sent about youth programming and youth employment when little to nothing is allocated in the budget.

Northwest Indiana cities and youth serving agencies (I am including myself and affiliated organizations) are guilty of not advocating more for the growing needs of youth to have relevant youth programming and youth employment. We, in the youth development serving areas, are all guilty of not making enough noise, not being squeaky enough to get oiled so that our rightful place within local and county budgets alike have youth programming and youth employment as funded line items. Where we all could have collaborated, we competed for the small pot of funding made available.

Now, there are funds made available through the federal government’s rescue plans to give money to organizations and small businesses who have experienced hardships because of COVID.

Who hasn’t?

So, let’s get more laserlike specific. Youth mental health and well being during COVID was one of the main issues discussed during the Our Voices Matter Youth Summit at City Hall in Gary in May.

Out of the concerns of these courageous young leaders there was a launch of a grassroots youth employment initiative that I led alongside AND Media and Good for Gary, where youth work for at least 4 weeks out of the summer.

Youths were placed at varying work sites like that of boutiques, kayak rentals, media, marketing and even summer camps. Youths are still being interviewed and placed until the end of the summer.

While I commend the organizations and businesses who stepped up to help solve youth summer employment, the number served paled in comparison to the numbers who could have been served through summer employment had that been a line item within a funded municipal or county budget.

What does the investment in Gary’s or Northwest Indiana’s future look like? I can offer at least one image in the vision I hope and work for towards a brighter future and that includes youth empowerment. Youth empowerment involves providing opportunities where they learn how to use what they learn in school and apply what they learned in daily real life. One’s first job is a chance to grow in and with responsibility, financial literacy, decision making, interpersonal communication as well as social emotional skills. Why are we not making it a major priority to provide these opportunities? I do not want or have the patience for carefully crafted responses that essentially don’t answer the question or address the issue. Now is the time to put your money where your mouth is and include (create where necessary) funded line items for youth programming and youth employment in municipal and county budgets. We will no longer accept that the money is not there because it is there for those leaders who have a vision for the future.

McKenya Dilworth is the director of the Lake Street Theatre. The opinions are the writer's.

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