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By Lou Calanche, Joel García, and Mario Fedelin
Co-Chairs for the Boyle Heights for Youth Coalition

Gabby Claro did not have access to after school and summer programs. She always had a knack for art, but her working-class family never had enough funds to pay for classes. Today, she owns her own creative design business and is better able to support her family while also pursuing her passion. How was this possible given the obstacles she faced?

Gabby had come to believe that she would never have the opportunity to pursue her creative endeavors, until a friend referred her to a community organization in Boyle Heights that provided art classes to underserved youth. There, Gabby sharpened her skills, and eventually became a mentor to younger participants as well as an entrepreneur and leader in her community.

Unfortunately, Gabby’s story is not very common in Los Angeles – the twist is that most youth in low-income communities do not have access to extracurricular programs – and in nightmare scenarios, can become disconnected.

According to the City’s Workforce Development Board, one out of six Los Angeles youth are considered disconnected – meaning they are neither enrolled in school nor working. The fact of the matter is that we’re not doing enough to prevent our youth from becoming disconnected. As a city, we have to provide opportunities to help young people live up to their potential.

Failure to recognize the importance of youth development can be detrimental to the future of Los Angeles. According to a study by the Social Science Research Council, the national cost of youth disconnection was $26.8 billion in 2013. As the world’s third largest metropolitan economy, this City cannot afford to underinvest in its young people.

With over 800,000 young people ages 10 to 24, Los Angeles could benefit from a centralized strategy for youth development. Instead, Los Angeles programs are divided amongst the Mayor’s Office, Bureau of Sanitation, Department of Recreation and Parks, and the Economic & Workforce Development Department. And as successful as many of the city’s programs have been, such as Gang Reduction and Youth Development, Youth Workforce Development, Summer Night Lights, and Clean & Green Jobs, , they are only budgeted at $37 million, making LA uncompetitive with other cities like New York (youth development spending $748 million) and San Francisco ($196 million).

In fact, Los Angeles is only spending $47 per youth, while San Francisco and New York are spending $1,746 and $472 on their young people. The results of that underinvestment are clear.

Although commitments like these can be challenging, continuing with the current level of funding is irresponsible. Youth programs make an important difference for our children and their parents. They keep our kids safe after school and in summer when they are most likely to be unsupervised. They help kids achieve academically, socially, and emotionally. Most importantly, they help parents provide productive and affordable opportunities for their children.

The choice confronting city leadership is to recognize the importance of youth development. We admit, government is never going to take the place of a stable household, but if there is a breakdown in the family unit, we have to ensure that investments are in place to support impacted youth. By creating a strategic, adequately funded plan to promote youth development, stories like Gabby’s can be more common.

We expect to get citywide support for this undertaking – and our communities will continue to be strong advocates towards that goal – but it will ultimately be up to the City Council and Mayor to prioritize youth development moving forward.

Lou Calanche, Joel Garcia, and Mario Fedelin are co-chairs of the Boyle Heights for Youth Coalition, a community coalition that is part of The California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities Initiative.

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