Whether it's the Brooklyn Park mayor or the Hennepin County librarian, each shares a common goal: To give young people safe ways to spend their time this summer.
Police and parks and recreation officials hosted a community meeting last week to brainstorm about how residents and organizations can help keep city kids occupied and off the streets for the next 2 1/2 months. More than 60 people attended.
"We understand something today that we didn't know before. ... You can't hassle kids out of their problems," said Deputy Police Chief Jeff Ankerfelt in his opening remarks.
The meeting was preventive in nature, called to help guard against juvenile crime at a time when kids are out of school, said Jan Ficken of the city's Recreation and Parks Department.
Part of the city's year-old Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, the session aimed to bring groups and individuals together to pool their resources and share what they have planned for youth this summer.
"We want the community to offer opportunities, because one organization can't do it all," said Ficken.
Once all the ideas from the meeting have been reviewed, the Police and Recreation and Parks departments will implement a plan of action, whether it's starting new programming or spreading the word about what's currently available.
While the focus is on helping kids this summer, officials said they hope many of these initiatives will become long-term.
Although the Youth Violence Initiative is fairly new, data suggest that it's having an impact. Police reports indicate there was less juvenile crime last year than in 2008; the two areas that saw the most improvement were curfew violations (down 30 percent) and assaults (down 38 percent).
Ankerfelt said there are several reasons behind the drop. Offering kids a safe place to be, like the Zanewood Recreation Center, or even something like nutrition after school, made a difference, he said. "A lot of them are just hungry, so we found a simple way to reduce stress is after school, when they're edgy, you just give them food and they're fine."
While the statistics on juvenile crime have been promising, it's no time to slow down, officials said. One step the City Council has taken is to OK funding to extend hours at the Zanewood center and the Community Activity Center.
Zanewood is located along the Zane Avenue corridor, which has been more prone to crime than other parts of the city, and has been one of the Violence Prevention Initiative's biggest successes, said Police Chief Michael Davis. It's considered the "bricks and mortar" of the initiative, and more than 1,800 young people have participated in its programs, Ankerfelt told the audience.
The importance of sharing information also was emphasized during last week's meeting.
Boredom leads to trouble
Jo Roberts of Link Associates, a rental consulting and property management group, said she doesn't see a lot of kids trying to make trouble.
"I see a lot of kids sitting home playing video games or on a street corner because they don't have anything to do. They are just walking bored and then are in the wrong spot at the wrong time. But I think kids just don't know if anything is out there," she said.
Roberts said she also meets a lot of new families moving into the neighborhood who want to know what Brooklyn Park has to offer. Unfortunately, she doesn't always have an answer.
She suggested that organizations distribute pamphlets to one another so they can spread the word to kids and parents.
Tommy Watson said schools also could play a role. As the principal of Palmer Lake Elementary, he proposed that organizations use the schools more for summer programming, especially since transportation is a problem for many kids. "If we can't get them to Zanewood, then we can at least get them to their own school," he said.
To help with transportation, Brooklyn Park recently raised money and bought a 12-passenger van to take kids to activities around town. Purchasing the van took care of one need, but Ficken said the city would like to go a step further and try to develop a loop that could transport kids to the library, Community Activity Center and Zanewood.
The meeting was considered a success, not only in numbers but in the diversity of organizations that sent representatives, said Ficken.
"I've been here 27 years, but I feel like it's been the last two that have had a renewed energy in the community to make things better for our youth," she said.
Hannah Gruber • 612-673-4864