A recent report commissioned by the city of Burnsville says that cost and lack of transportation are significant barriers to participation in youth programming, and the city is discussing what can be done about it.
Other reasons for not taking part in activities included having responsibilities at home and a lack of awareness of what's available, the report said. Youth also said they wanted more arts programs offered, and more opportunities for part-time jobs and volunteer work, while parents wanted more athletic programs.
In June, the city released the results of the Burnsville Youth Needs Assessment, a grant-funded survey of parents, youth and community organizations. It was completed by an outside marketing agency this spring.
The survey included focus groups of 5th- through 12th-grade students, written surveys completed by 4th, 7th and 9th graders, and interviews with leaders from 22 community groups. An online parent survey was also conducted.
Survey results highlighted the city's changing demographics, including increased numbers of students receiving free and reduced-price lunch at school, and more immigrant and minority families, said Wendy Lutter, who conducted the survey.
"Things are changing in Burnsville with youth, and some of the numbers prove that," Lutter said at a City Council work session on July 9.
Several City Council members said the findings confirmed much of what they already knew.
"The assessment just took information that we already knew anecdotally and now put it into a factual document," said Mayor Elizabeth Kautz.
The report also indicated that community organizations serving Burnsville youth are eager to work together. Lutter called Burnsville "one of the most collaborative communities" she had worked with. Representatives from many groups met each other for the first time at the youth summit that Lutter held as part of the survey work.
The report was criticized by several City Council members, however, for failing to offer concrete recommendations.
"It really doesn't help me make any decisions," said Council Member Mary Sherry.
At the work session, the council discussed the report and the future of youth programming in the city. It decided to begin conversations that could bring the Boys and Girls Club to Burnsville as a lead organization for youth programs. The council's hope is that organizations in the city would then have a single organization to contact that could facilitate communication between groups and generally serve youth better, Kautz said.
Eventually, the groups could possibly form a joint powers agreement, Kautz added.
The council has been in communication with the Boys and Girls Club for about a year. Because the organization serves kindergarten through 12th grade, it could help the city serve a wider range of youth, Kautz said.
The Boys and Girls Club could help coordinate projects discussed by youth, parents and community organizations in the survey. It could also facilitate a website that would include information about various youth organizations and programs available, Kautz said.
JJ Ryan, recreation and facilities superintendent with the city, said that the idea "seems like a no-brainer if that's one of the things that students and parents want."
Ryan said that as a result of the survey, he believes that Parks and Recreation should look at their numbers more carefully and determine if cost and transportation issues keep kids from participating.
Parks and Recreation oversees the Garage, a Burnsville youth center that opened in 1999, as well as other youth and family programs, Ryan said. As a result of the survey, the city may need to evaluate the cost of programming, as well as try to better communicate the existence of scholarships for kids who are interested but don't think they can afford it.
"The funding's there," he said. "We do try to make all of our programs affordable."
He said that he'd like to see more organizations work together to offer additional music and arts programming at the Garage, too.
Conversations with the Boys and Girls Club will begin in the next few weeks, Ryan said.
One of the questions he'll ask them is "what they would need to make the Garage their facility," which could include a remodeling project, he said.
Kautz said that issues raised by the survey, like transportation, can best be tackled through collaboration of all of the community groups. "When you have everybody at the table talking about this, the solutions to those issues surface," she said.