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When Youth are Unsupervised, Bored, and Armed

by Behnosh Najafi | | Posted under Opinions

We’ve been reflecting on our organizational history as we prepare to celebrate School’s Out Washington’s 25th Anniversary this November. Since we formed in 1987 we’ve emphasized the critical importance of the safety of youth after school, and our mission remains “to ensure all young people have safe places to learn and grow when not in school.”

Recent shooting deaths in Seattle  show that safety remains a huge concern for many youth, young adults and adults in our field.  Nicole Brodeur went to the scene of Wednesday’s shooting death at Rainier Ave South Jack-in-the-Box to speak with mourners and neighbors as they grappled to understand.  She titled her column in today’s The Seattle Times  “Dying for Things with No Meaning” (print edition).  She spoke with Bryant Westbrook, an employee of the barber shop next door.

”This neighborhood is off the hook…It’s just a lot of kids under 25 who don’t have nothing to do,” he said. The Rainier Vista Boys and Girls Club is too far away, and it costs money to get there by bus.”

The Seattle Times reported yesterday, “While most lamented the death, others who work and live in the area said violence is not an unexpected result when the bored and young — and armed — congregate.

Courtney Taylor was 31 years old when he was shot and a father of five. What about the person who shot him? We don’t know yet how old he or she is. We do know there are a lot of young people who hang around in the neighborhood and wish we could reach them while they are still young.  Bryant Westbrook told Brodeur, “‘Before I was 10, I had to duck from a drive-by [shooting.]’

Although much of the talk  in the afterschool and youth development field now puts emphasis on academic outcomes, 21st century skills, STEM, etc., some communities are dealing with violence and safety issues every day in their programs. Our job at School’s Out is to respond to the needs of each community with professional development and advocacy on their behalf. We meet each program where it is with a positive, inclusive and collaborative spirit.

For many summer learning programs in our state, the biggest burden is food scarcity.  Think of those who rely on free or reduced price lunches during the school year. In the summer, they are lucky if they can access a Summer Food Service Program site for free meals. Please help us combine one of these free meal programs in rural Washington with a literacy program and give many kids something to do over the summer. Donate to Feed Your Brain.  As of today we are only $500 away from funding an additional program!

It’s our job to support you, the child and youth development professionals, because you know what the youth in your community are dealing with. We can help you build your skills and find tools to deal with problems as large as fear and grief and as small as a little rumbling tummy.

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