RICHMOND — The teenagers in this rural city may soon have an alternative to playing video games after school, if all goes according to plan for Richmond resident Paula Gilbert.
Gilbert is organizing a youth center or program that may provide adolescents primarily from the sixth through ninth grades with daily opportunities to participate in theater, sports, and other activities. Gilbert said all activities are based on the needs of the community, but she hopes to also include guests such as live entertainers, motivational speakers, and professionals from throughout Cache Valley who would discuss possible career paths with the youth.
“This is something to help protect the kids,” Gilbert said. “If they are busy in the center, they are less likely to go out and get in trouble.”
Gilbert said that while the center may open within six months to one year, the project is still in its infancy. Gilbert met with the City Council in November to ask for their feedback and blessing to continue the project. The council gave Gilbert the go-ahead and Mayor Mike Hall told her to report back to the council once she finished her initial research.
Since that meeting, Gilbert has met with several Richmond officials to discuss the needs of the city’s youth. She said there is not very much for youth to do in Richmond and that because of the economy, not many parents can afford to take their children to activities in other areas.
She also said that based on a recent survey of students in Cache County, “there is a big jump in risk from sixth to the eighth grade.” She said these risks include alcohol use, drug use, and other forms of delinquency.
Gilbert said no plans have been made for a definitive home for the program, but that it might be housed in the city office building or library. She will continue interviewing members of the community and hopes to have their first coalition meeting around the end of January. After several coalition meetings there will be a town hall type meeting to garner support from the community, she said.
The youth program will be funded through government grants and private donations, Gilbert said. She plans to ask local businesses for their support as well.
“With the current economy we’re not sure where all of the money will come from,” said Blaire Nelson from Utah State University’s Center for the School of the Future and Gilbert’s partner in the project, “we’ll start at one source and if that doesn’t work we will try others.”
Gilbert said she first became interested in organizing a youth program when Park Elementary, where she currently works at as an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer, decided to discontinue its AmeriCorps program because of budget concerns. She learned about the Communities that Care model for youth centers from her daughter, who works for a similar organization in the Salt Lake area. This model focuses on community research and involvement.
“Communities That Care has been used for over two decades to reduce risk factors and enhance protective factors in youth by organizing local stakeholders and community members to create prevention programming from the ground up,” said Erin Handley, Gilbert’s daughter and community organizer for Midvale United, a Utah-based organization dedicated to preventing prescription drug abuse.