Sunrise Youth Bureau forms a task force

After the city deemed child care a critical issue, Jerry Mayer decided to do something about it. Faced with the possibility of having to shut down the Sunrise Youth Bureau, the director opted to form a task force to look for solutions. Mayer reac...

After the city deemed child care a critical issue, Jerry Mayer decided to do something about it.

Faced with the possibility of having to shut down the Sunrise Youth Bureau, the director opted to form a task force to look for solutions. Mayer reached out to city, county, school, library, chamber of commerce and parks and recreation.

"It's a community problem, and we all need to work together," Mayer said. "For us to just take it on and say, 'we're going to do it as the youth bureau' is not going to work because we just don't have the capability to do it."

Sunrise Youth Bureau board member Teddie Brannin said the goal was to encompass different agencies because it's a community issue. By working together, the group is hoping to develop a plan that will be functional for the city as a whole.

The Sunrise Youth Bureau and Youth Center are non-profit organizations that are facing tough financial times. The situation was made worse when the youth center building, formerly the Hot Tracks Teen Center, will no longer have its utilities paid for by Dickinson Parks and Recreation.


Although it is not associated with the youth center or youth bureau, other groups like the Boy Scouts and the Lake House Kids program also will be impacted by the facility's close.

"These other agencies that use it were coordinated through us to use the building, so we were basically responsible for everything that went on out there," Mayer said.

Dickinson Parks and Recreation Director James Kramer said after reviewing its budget for this year, the park board identified areas where it could cut expenses. He said historically, the park board had been very involved with programming and operations, but as time passed, it became less involved.

"We don't own the building; we don't insure it," Kramer said. "We felt our whole role in the facility went away."

Without that $500 to $800 per month, Mayer and his group is not be able to continue to lease the building from the city. Mayer said the youth bureau building on West Villard Street is not large enough to support the youth center activities.

"If there is no support, and we can't make this work, then where do these kids go?" Mayer said. "That's the issue; what will happen to them if we don't make it work?"

Mayer said the parents would have to take their kids somewhere, be it the mall, the library or elsewhere. When the city discussed child care as a critical issue, one concern that was raised was places like those were used as de facto day care centers.

Another issue at the heart of this for Mayer is many of the kids who come to the youth center usually have parents who are not able to afford other options.


Mayer also said the kids who come to the youth center, while not bad kids, are the type of children who are more prone to getting into trouble.

Mayer said there are other options for parents, such as allowing them to burn energy at the community center, or going to a Regional After-School Program, located at the elementary schools. However, he said many kids may not be able to afford those programs or would not want to part of such a structured program.

"We don't want it to be a competition with RASP; that's why we want a school representative there," Mayer said. "We just want another available option that the parents can pick if they don't want to send their kids to RASP."

Outlining goals

One goal for the youth bureau would be to move into a more centrally located building and to consolidate into one facility.

"It would just be easier for us to manage if it was all in one building," said Holly Praus, who works with the youth center. "Hopefully, we will get more kids wanting to come."

Praus said since the current location is a little farther out of town and many of the parents don't have vehicles to pick up their kids, she sometimes has to take the children home. Mayer said by moving into a more central location, they may be able to walk or ride bikes home.

"We feel that we would actually reach more of the community, of these types of kids because it's easier to get to, more visibility, more people would think about it," Brannin said.


Another goal for the youth bureau is to see if it is feasible to stay open until 9 p.m., instead of closing at 6 p.m., like it does now.

"Parents (would) know that if they can't get there at 6 (p.m.) to pick (them) up, the kids are not on the streets or at home watching videos that they shouldn't," Brannin said.

Feasibility depends on two factors - manpower and finances. Brannin said if the youth center were to be open later, more volunteers would be necessary.

"One thing we have to really, really think about is how financially we're going to support this," Mayer said. "The community center charges a fee on a monthly basis; are we going to be looking at a fee for them to go there?"

The county assists with payments on the youth bureau building. With too few grants and donations coming in, Mayer said the task force is necessary to look for funding solutions for the center.

Looking for options

Brannin said unlike many after-school programs, the youth center offers more of a home environment for students. While the kids can do homework, they can also visit with friends, play computer games or watch television.

"The youth center is just a place for them to go and be supervised," Mayer said.


The task force's first meeting is at 5:30 p.m. on Friday at Dickinson City Hall. Mayer said depending on how the first meeting goes, he will then decide how often the task force should meet.

Mayer said the meeting is open to the public.

"The key, I think, of what we're trying to do, is get more parent involvement," Brannin said. "If parents want this, we need parents to step up to the plate and help us out."

As it sits now, the youth center will be open until school ends this spring. Mayer said it received a large enough donation to fund the program until then.

Unless the task force comes up with a number of answers quickly, Mayer said it may not be possible to hold a summer program like it did last year.

"What that means is those kids that we watched last summer, we won't be able to care for them this summer, which means that they'll be unattended somewhere," Mayer said.

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