By Amanda Dyslin
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — Everyone who attended the first Community Summit on Youth Monday night had a voice.
Research, studies and opinions on Greater Mankato youth culture, development and need were presented by various community leaders at the Verizon Wireless Center. But then the parents, teens and community members in the audience were given the opportunity to converse and respond to what they heard.
And that’s exactly what Youth Voice intended — to begin an open dialogue about youth and get us all thinking about what already works and where improvements are needed when it comes to young people. The mission of Youth Voice, which took the place of Mankato Area Healthy Youth, is to make Greater Mankato “the very best place for youth to grow up and live,” said Bonnie Stanton, community organizer of the YWCA.
“I think it’s a night of celebration for everybody who is working so hard for youth in our community,” said Laura Bowman, president of the Greater Mankato United Way.
“We can’t sit back and let youth take the initiative to always get involved because they don’t always have the courage,” Bowman said. “... And youth in the audience, you can’t always sit back and wait for the adults to figure it out because sometimes we don’t always have the answers.”
Two Minnesota State University professors presented results of surveys of adults in the community and youth regarding various areas of wellness.
Sara Sifers, MSU psychology professor, presented youth responses on “How Youth Thrive Despite All Odds.” Some of the results were surprising for audience members. For example, only half of kids surveyed reported having a good relationship with their fathers.
“The father thing was weird,” said James Fultz, an MSU sophomore at a table of five other sophomores who agreed the statistic was surprising.
Sifers also reported only 70 percent of youth felt they had control over their life. To the table of sophomores, that wasn’t at all a shock.
“Well, do you feel like you have control over your life?” asked Tess Burkhartzmeyer.
“No, that’s why I actually thought (the percentage) was pretty high,” said Joshua Quittem.
About 65 percent of youth also said they have feelings of inadequacy. However, the education-related questions all had highly positive results, Sifers said. The majority of students who responded are not having big problems in school, and school doesn’t stress them out — which perhaps could aid in eliminating some of those inadequacy issues.
“We know that support from teachers can be a wonderful way to combat feelings of inadequacy in youth,” Sifers said.
Nancy Fitzsimons, a social work professor, presented results of adult surveys on the well-being of children and youth in the Mankato area. One trend was that there is a divide in the community of the “have and have nots,” and that divide is negatively impacting youth.
Also, adults reported a lack of free time and free play for kids, with too much emphasis on structured activities. Overall in the community, there isn’t enough for kids to do. And the majority of adults said the community, overall, may believe that children and youth are “faring better than they actually are,” Fitzsimons said.
In the audience, Nancy Zallek drew a correlation between the “haves and have nots” with the problem of children being “over-structured.” Children in families who are financially stable have the opportunity to put their children in numerous activities and sports, and families who are in need don’t have that option.
The evening’s other presentations included a panel of youth which offered input on what they heard over the course of the summit and where improvements are needed in the community.
Several of them agreed that transportation is an issue in Mankato.
“I’m 15, so even though there are all those recreational opportunities, if you have friends who are like, ‘Hey, let’s go shopping,’ or, ‘Hey, let’s go to a movie,’ it is hard to get around,” said Ally Peters, who added that those two activities are the most popular among her age group. “I think a lot of us go shopping and go to the movies because there’s nothing else to do.”
Several of the youth panelists also agreed that teens listen to teens. A great improvement in the community would be to find more ways to bring them together.
“Teens and young adults should have some way to come together and talk about things,” said Addy Payne. “I definitely think it’s a good thing for youth to have other people to talk to.”