The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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July 9, 2013

Sports facilities not a top youth need

Using taxpayer dollars to build a regional multi-use sports complex or not to use such dollars? We clearly seem to be heading in the “to build” direction.

How much of the money will come from public dollars is yet to be determined. The quest, initiated by the ice hockey community, has been broadened to garner support from other sports-minded sectors by pursuing a multi-use sports facility. Other efforts to gain support are to frame the need as a benefit to our youth. This is not really an editorial about an ice rink. Rather, about investing city and county dollars towards a market study, and ultimately a sports facility, in the name of “helping our kids.”

I do not doubt that some kids will benefit. But, is a multi-use sports facility exactly what our kids have been clamoring for? Are the needs of children, youth and their families, particularly those most disadvantaged, so minimal that our counties can afford to partially fund market studies?

Let’s examine the first question posed — is this what our kids want? I have no idea if part of the market study entails talking with a broad spectrum of children and youth from our community, but I suspect not. There have been recent efforts to talk to kids about just such a thing. For the past 1 1/2 years, the Otto Bremer Foundation had funded the Youth Voice Initiative through the Mankato YWCA. One of the accomplishments of Youth Voice was conducting a series of small group meetings with youth to ask them directly what would make our community a great place to live.

The ideas of the youth who participated in Youth Voice sessions formed the basis for dialogue at the Feb. 11 Community Summit on Youth — a community conversation of over 300 adults and youth on the well-being of youth and how to improve our community for all youth. At the Summit, and follow-up meeting on March 11, youth and adults identified five high need areas: 1) a teen center, 2) better public transportation, 3) increased mentorship opportunities, 4) jobs and job training, and 5) greater involvement of youth in community decision-making and leadership.

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