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Friday, June 18, 2010

Our Young People Have Spoken!

One of the strategies of the Archway Partnership Executive Committee is to listen to our community in identifying needs, concerns, and opportunities. In order to listen, the committee has identified different segments of the community where formal focus group discussions will be conducted. One of the groups to have a conversation with is the youth of our community.

Over the past few weeks, Melissa Lu, our community’s Archway Professional, along with other key listeners have visited with many of our young people at many different schools. The answers to the questions posed to them might surprise you. This list is nowhere near exhaustive of all the responses received, but my intent is to tease you into learning more and getting involved in the conversation.

The first set of questions allowed the students to discuss what they liked about Dalton:
• The students think the leaders of this community are accessible, and they love the fact that there are ways to get involved in this close-knit community.
• The students love the parks and tourist attractions. However, they noted that many people don’t know about the best tourist attractions.
• The students think that this is a “decent-looking town.”
Next, we asked the students what they would like Dalton to look like in the future:
• The students would like Whitfield County to be a place where more youth are involved in youth organizations. The students see this as a way to prevent gangs and violence that they see all around them. They want the community to be gang-free.
• The students would like there to be more places for clean, cheap/free, safe entertainment. The students said that they do not need police patrolling every 5 minutes, but that they would like for there to be undercover cops/security officers to prevent the places from becoming “bad.” The students suggested that we create a “Teen Club” that has nightly themes. They suggested that the teen club be free, have a $2 -$5 admission fee, or run off of donations. A follow-up question prompted the suggestion for there to be some type of teen transportation.
• The students said that, in the future, they would like well-funded schools. They said that they want their government to think before they spend money. They said that they would like the city and county officials to consult with the superintendents before building permits are issued so that the school systems can be proactive rather than reactive.
• The students want their parents to be more involved with them. They said that their parents don’t know how to talk to them. They said that kids are getting into gangs because their parents don’t understand what is out there. They suggested that the community/school systems host game nights, parent-child partner competitions, and cheap/donations only spaghetti dinners. They suggested that some of these interactive activities need to be offered in the morning, at lunch, and on the weekends. They stated that they want their parents to recognize the positive things they are doing, not just the negative things.
• The students want a better economy.
• The students want a more recycling-friendly community. They want it to be free. And they want to find a way to incentivize recycling for people who might not otherwise do it.
• The students want street art like the bulldogs in Athens and suggested that we use Peacocks.
• The students want an easily accessible teen art showcase where parents and friends can see their work. They want something like they have at the Fair, but they want it to be open year-round. They want the opportunity to auction off their art.
• The students want a mural in town that they help create.
The idea of the Greater Dalton community considering the idea of becoming a Center of Research, Learning, and Innovation was discussed. The students made the following suggestions:
• We could make storage tubs/containers out of carpet, or string/yarn, or that we find a way to make carpet-powered cars.
• We could become a Center for Interior and Exterior Housing Design.
• The students very seriously discussed becoming the toilet paper capital of the world. The student who introduced this idea into the conversation said that it is her dream to become an entrepreneur. The students discussed how several of the old carpet buildings could be used to make the toilet paper because there are rollers, dye vats, etc. The students expanded this idea and said that we could make paper towels and baby wipes. Some of the students came from countries where there is not enough toilet paper, so they said they know there is a need for it around the world.
The students discussed what would bring them back to Whitfield County:
• Dalton has an old-school (traditional) look with good weather / no hurricanes.
• There are great schools in Dalton/Whitfield.
• Dalton/Whitfield is a good place to raise a family with many supportive organizations here.
• Dalton Whitfield is a close community / home.
In asking for comments that the students wanted their leaders to hear, the following was offered:
• They would like a more cohesive community for students/teens.
• The students stated that it would be great for the superintendents, our mayors and city councils, and other leaders to be involved with them. They said that they wished that their elected officials would talk to them and sit in on their classes / lunches. They want a place where teens can have a say in big decisions. They want the opportunity to tell their leaders how they feel in person.
• They stated that they would like less paving and more planned development.
• They want a student newspaper that gets circulated to everyone in the county. They want the schools to email their families with what is going on.
• They want to go to college and attend summer programs, but many of them can’t because they do not have social security numbers. The students talked at length about the absence of hope when they cannot proceed with their education and discussed how this can result in them joining gangs, etc.
• The students talked about the high school rivalries and suggested it would be good for students to do a school swap for a day.
The responses to these questions were refreshing for me. I was pleasantly surprised that our young people have valid concerns about the community that they live in and call home. They are more connected to the issues facing our community than I have given them credit for. These young leaders want what we all want: a community that is prosperous (jobs), a community that is well-planned, pretty, has public art, and is cared for, and a community where adults (parents and community leaders) listen to them and include them.
I am grateful for Melissa and all the time she put in capturing this wealth of information. And I am grateful to live in a community with young people who care about their community and want to be a part of making it an even better community. The learning and problem-solving possibilities that are available through the Archway visioning process are infinite. What an exciting time we live in!

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