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Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with JoLynn DiGrazia of Westside Ministries, Major Debi Shrum of the Salvation Army and Pastors Samuel Galdamez, Steve Carlson and Tim Hawkinson of Turlock Covenant Church.
When I asked each of them separately what they thought the number one need was in their community, they all said the same thing: A safe place for the youth to hang out.
Faith-based organizations are not the only ones who know that youth — especially pre-teens and teens — are at a vulnerable age and need to be surrounded as much as possible with positive role models. Ask any police officer or parks and recreation employee what their main focus is and they will say to keep kids off the streets and out of trouble.
If you are still not convinced that youth warrant our full attention and resources, allow me to throw some statistics at you.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, of high school seniors in 2008: 42.6 percent reported having ever used marijuana/hashish, 7.2 percent reported having ever used cocaine and 1.3 percent reported having ever used heroin.
In 2007:
• 22 percent of all students in grades 9 through 12 reported someone had offered, sold, or given them an illegal drug on school property;
• about a third of public and private school students ages 12-18 reported that they have been bullied at school within the past six months;
• among high school students in grades 9-12, about 12 percent said they got into a fight on school property;
• 10 percent of male students and 5 percent of female students reported experiencing a threat or injury with a weapon on school property.
I am not saying that all youth are one step away from becoming addicted to drugs or becoming a victim of a violent crime. What I am saying is just as we provide for the safety of our youngest children by installing child-proof medication lids, we should provide for the safety of our teenagers by giving them alternatives to drug use and joining a gang.
We need a teen center.
The City of Turlock, along with its citizens need to come together and make a teen center a reality. The faith-based community cannot shoulder all of the responsibility for giving our youth someplace safe to go after school.
In 1998, the community came together to give the children of Turlock a safe and fun place to play at Donnelly Park. Eleven years later, the wooden play structure is still bringing joy to children from 1 to 12 years of age.
It is now time to give the youth from 13 to 18 years of age a safe and fun place to hang out and be themselves.
I challenge all of Turlock’s service clubs to go to the next Parks, Recreation and Community Commission meeting and make a commitment to support a teen center in Turlock.
The Turlock Parks, Recreation and Community Commission holds regularly scheduled meetings on the second Wednesday of each month. Meetings are held at 7 p.m. at Turlock City Hall, 156 S. Broadway, in the Yosemite Community Room.
To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.