Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Part Three: Creating A "Youth Corps" That Works

 Part Three of the MeanMesa Series: Albuquerque Youth Corps

In Part Two we described the foundation plan for the Youth Corps, but we also mentioned that we discussing only the "basic package,"  that is, the basic contract a young Albuquerque citizen could make with the Youth Corps.  It focused on a few simple tracks:
  1. random drug tests
  2. be a good student
  3. one full day's work every week
  4. be a law abiding citizen

For an Albuquerque teenager who "signed up" for this basic contract, there would be some advantages both immediately and longer term.  First, a stipend of, say, $25 per week; second, a tangible history of not being a drug user; third, a much improved chance of actually graduating from High School; and, fourth, a chance to "experience" some work days in preparation for a more successful adult life.

The most important feature of the "basic package" would be the simplest of all.  A teenage "contractor" with Youth Corps could start having a little hope.  That highly abstract addition to an otherwise frustrated and pessimistic young life can make all the difference in the world!

If the four items listed above represent the "basic package," what sorts of things could be added once the Youth Corps concept was in operation?

Start with the precise areas where Albuquerque teenagers are the most immediately challenged -- and, the exact areas where their parents seem to be the least capable or interested in assisting them.

Let's try out a couple of examples.

Your daughter is 16 years old.  You and your wife both work full time.  Her grades are a disaster.  She is now facing the self-esteem and health problems of being 25 pounds over weight.  There is no one at home to help her lose a few pounds, eat better meals or figure out her math homework.  In her circles there are stories about girls who use meth losing weight.

Your son is 15.  He hates going to school and his grades show it.  The only money he has to spend is given to him by you, and even that little amount arrives with a full "load" of guilt, arguing and disappointment.   He is fully acquainted with the temporary relief a few beers or a couple of joints can offer.  He begins looking to his "friends" for that "family feeling."  Soon after that, he starts showing up with mysterious "purchases" of I-Phones, new tennis shoes and a violent, defiant attitude.

We know where this usually goes.

All these difficulties cry out for family support, but there simply doesn't seem to be time, interest or energy to handle the challenge.  The parents feel incompetent and the teenagers feel desolate.  When some sort of what we might consider reasonable guidance is introduced, your daughter runs from the room crying and your son tells you that he has now made arrangements with his new friends to "take care of himself."

Well, these challenges can be added to the Youth Corps "contract."  MeanMesa is convinced that most teenagers, once they have access to the opportunity to start solving their problems, will.  Once a young person begins to have confidence that Youth Corps can actually help, things may start looking brighter pretty quickly.

Being in the company of other teenagers who have begun to do better will probably be the most convincing factor possible.

How can I increase my stipend amount?

Pass the Youth Corps math and literacy tests.  Attend a serious Youth Corps version of "operational" sex education.  Pass the Youth Corps nutrition and health course. Improve your grades.  Get fit by participating in Youth Corps athletic programs (This will make you feel better than being drunk or high.). Make friends with your group counselor, tell him what's driving you nuts and ask him what to do!


The first IMPOSSIBLE PROBLEM is finding the people to run it.

The first problem arises from the need to actually manage all of this.  Who could lead such an effort?  Where will the dedicated volunteers come from?  Who will handle all the "pay checks," record keeping and administration?

The Youth Corps will need a leader.  This does not mean an "expert" civil servant who knows "everything there is to know" about exactly how to do this.  We are talking LEADER here.  MeanMesa suspects that one good place to look is a retired military officer.  The Governor could certainly persuade a National Guard commander to give it a try.

The Youth Corps cannot become a military school, but, in terms of experience in motivating some uncertain teen agers, the military atmosphere definitely comes to mind.  Further, this would not be an honorary post.  It might turn out to be the most challenging leadership job even an experienced military officer ever faced.

No guts, no glory.

The New Mexico National Guard has never been a "slouch" when it comes to getting things done.

The program design must directly and purposefully eliminate the possibility of creating a bureaucracy.  "Deadwood" need not apply.  The number of salaried positions must be kept to a bare minimum.  Further, the maximum pay for these positions should be advertised with a concrete cap, that is, a limit as to how much an applicant can ever earn doing this job.

We've tried paying for this already.  It hasn't worked so far.  Maybe there are Albuquerque citizens who find it necessary to be responsible.  For the city.  For the future.  For the young ones.

The remainder of the man power required to operate the Youth Corps would be volunteers.  Everything would be done in pairs.  Two counselors for every group of teen agers, men for boys and women for girls.

We have mentioned a "pilot program," but that term may actually be a bit off target.  Youth Corps teams must form themselves.  Rounding up two adults who can be an effective pair of surrogate "parents" might actually fall to the teen agers who want to be in the group.  The "old Colonel" can, very likely, look these adults in the eye and tell whether or not he will authorize the creation of the team to proceed.

Youth Corps teams would represent the central structure of the program.  Although following a few of the over all Youth Corps contract requirements, much of a team's individual direction can originate from the team itself.  Saturday work can be organized by the team members and counselors.  No more "make work" jobs painfully fabricated by an unenthusiastic civil servant.

The Youth Corps would share a few of the traits of the military, the Boy Scouts, the drug courts, 4-H, the probation department's community service ideas and a few others while not being exclusively any of them.  Although contributions could be received from almost anyone interested in providing them, strictly "faith based" volunteers such a priests and preachers, church youth counselors and church groups would have to be excluded. 

There is room for only one agenda in the Youth Corps.  That agenda has everything to do with changing conditions right here, right now, on the ground while these teen agers are actual living humans walking around on this world, solving their problems, developing into citizens.

The second IMPOSSIBLE PROBLEM is paying for it.

Let's be frank.  We are already paying for it, and the dollars we spend trying to control the inevitable outcome of this mess will go a long way toward creating a constructive alternative.  What is a city filled with decent, well adjusted, promising teen agers worth?

What is the "price" of hope?  And, compared to what is going on now, what is the "worth" of hope?  We know the "price" of hopelessness.

We can begin with the money we might save if the Juvenile Detention Center had a lot fewer residents, the city wide graffiti squad had fewer jobs to clean and the courts were not so filled with teen age drug users and criminals.  In a decade, Albuquerque might be enjoying the economic benefits of offering a much improved labor force to prospective businesses considering moving here.

The full burden of social services now required for supporting fatherless children, the unemployable and those damaged by drug use and drunk driving might be quite a lot less.  We might even be able to reduce the number of police we need to maintain control in the high schools.

The City Council will have to pony up some help, and so will the State legislature.  Worse, the "chicken livered," risk averse politicians we find in those places will have to find some backbone, too.  We can pretty confidently count on the Republicans to fight the idea of a Youth Corps "tooth and nail."  It won't turn a profit in a week and the budget MeanMesa is proposing won't be large enough for any serious looting.  Republicans don't care about 1.) teen agers, 2.) successful programs that might give the State Democrats a "win," or 3.) any future of anything aside from their own future.

Happily, a Governor might be interested in at least kicking the thing off the blocks for a pilot program.  APS might be persuaded to lend the Youth Corps a couple of school buses on Saturdays and a meeting room in one of the schools.  In fact, if the Governor were able to find a couple of State Congressmen to move the thing forward, a lot could be accomplished.

MeanMesa would like for all our visitors to take a few minutes and consider this proposition -- at this point it is no more than a seed.  However, MeanMesa's IT Guy has opened an Atrium account where you can post your own ideas about Albuquerque Youth Corps.  When the details of this have been finalized, MeanMesa will post a short set of instructions which will allow all those interested to participate.

Stay tuned.  There will be more.

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