The work that young activists started years ago, pushing Long Beach to invest more in its youth, is slowly coming to fruition.

Long Beach is in the midst of hosting a series of community forums to gather input for the city’s first Youth Strategic Plan. The first meeting, on Saturday, Jan. 25, in the Billie Jean King Main Library, focused on Council Districts 1, 2 and 6, which encompass the downtown and parts of Central Long Beach, stretching from the shoreline north to 31st Street.

The east Long Beach meeting (Districts 3, 4 and 5) is from noon to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1, at Whaley Park Community Center, 5620 E. Atherton St. Districts 7, 8 and 9 will meet at the same time on Feb. 8 at Silverado Park Social Hall.

This first meeting was open for the public, but also served as a practice round for the Youth Ambassadors, who have been trained to facilitate discussions with these focus groups.

“So the goal for today’s meeting is to collect data,” said one of the youth ambassadors (students’ names weren’t shared with the media). “By the end of the day, we hope to have an understanding of all the problems that are happening in districts 1, 2 and 6 among the youth, to be able to understand where they’re at, and what tools we have or need to get that can help them.”

The youth ambassadors want to turn the subjective experiences of the attendees (qualitative data) into quantitative data that they can use to form their strategy moving forward. To this end, they’ve worked with Alex Norman, Professor Emeritus of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs to develop their behavior and questions, so as to get accurate and comprehensive data for their project.

Forums serving the other six council districts are scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 1, and Saturday, Feb. 8.

The effort follows the City Council’s decision in 2018 to allocate $200,000 in its budget for a new Youth Fund.

That vote alone was a significant victory for Khmer Girls in Action and other organizations that advocated for the creation of such a fund, although those groups hoped the city would be able to dedicate $500,000 toward the cause.

“I’ve worked on nine budgets, and this is the most organized youth effort I’ve ever seen,” Ninth District City Councilman Rex Richardson said at the time.

But now that the city has made the initial investment, the next step is to determine a path forward for the services Long Beach offers to its residents under the age of 18.

The kids who initially championed the Youth Fund hoped it would eventually be used to create a Youth Center.

For now, though, says Joy Warren — recreation superintendent for Long Beach’s Parks, Recreation and Marine Department — the goal is to facilitate the upcoming forums, and to receive as much input as possible from the young people of Long Beach.

“What started as one or two or three voices, started a momentum, and here we are now, it got us moving in this direction," Warren said. "That in itself should show that peoples’ voices matter to us, and we’re hopeful that by engaging in this process, they’ll see that the city is listening.”

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