Pam McBride keeps a photo of a smiling little boy displayed in her office at the Brooklyn Park Activity Center — a reminder of her impact in the past year as the city’s first youth coordinator.
The 5-year-old boy is quiet and timid, McBride says, but he comes out of his shell and impresses older kids with artwork during a summer recreation program she oversees. He never misses the art activities and always brings his creations home for his mom.
McBride became Brooklyn Park’s youth coordinator in June 2016 after 12 years with the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board.
She supervises activities and initiatives designed to get kids involved with local government. Cops vs. kids basketball tournaments, for instance, help smooth what she said is “oftentimes a very strained relationship” between youth and police. And Youth in City Government Day offers kids a tour of city facilities and a chance to talk to city officials.
Brooklyn Park’s youth programs have been associated with a drop in reported crimes over the past several years.
McBride said the city’s Rec on the Go program is particularly popular. Two buses packed with equipment for sports, games and art projects, as well as books and snacks, travel to apartment communities and parks for 60- to 90-minute activities. The program began last year with one bus and added a second one this summer — provided by the Super Bowl Legacy Fund — to facilitate teenage recreation travel around Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park.
The buses stop in areas where youth are less engaged with city recreation programs and may face barriers such as a lack of transportation and child care commitments. McBride said nearly two-thirds of the 908 young people who participated in the Rec on the Go program last year had no previous exposure to recreation programming.
McBride also is trying to engage youth in city meetings, particularly when they involve issues that affect young people, such as schools, parks and events. For this year’s Tater Daze Festival, an annual celebration of potatoes that McBride said has had trouble attracting teens in years past, she recruited a dozen young people from the Rec on the Go activities to help plan events attractive to their peers.
Demetrious Gibbs, 15, is an employee at Zanewood Recreation Center who helped facilitate discussions about the future of city parks. He said he wanted to get involved to show adults that there are thoughtful teenagers in the city.
“It showed them that we can be sophisticated,” Gibbs said.
Chantel Willis, 15, also helped facilitate park planning meetings and the teen-appropriate events at Tater Daze.
She said she appreciated having a say in planning the activities, and she wanted to get involved because she has a 3-year-old sister who will be using the parks one day. She said she wishes more young people would get involved. “We are the city too,” Willis said. “We are the future.”
Both Gibbs and Willis said they appreciate that McBride is so involved with youth, adding that she did a great job preparing them to be facilitators.
McBride wants to do more art projects and have a bigger presence in schools. She also hopes to connect with city departments and groups that deal with young people.
“That’s on the grown folks,” McBride said. “That’s the part we have to figure out, and young people can be the recipients of all the goodness that comes from that.”