Councilman Corey O’Connor, second left, started the youth program in cooperation with Carlow University and the SLB Radio Productions nonprofit.
By Adam Smeltz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Teenagers curious about civics have a direct chance to bend Pittsburgh City Council’s ear this year.
A new Youth Participatory Budget Council program will accept as many as 21 young people from the city for an up-close look at municipal government — and let them develop a proposal for the 2018 city budget.
“If you’re involved in your community, you take more pride in your community. And you respect other people who live in it,” said Councilman Corey O’Connor, who started the youth program in cooperation with Carlow University and the SLB Radio Productions nonprofit.
He wants not only to help give young people a voice, but to engage them in government processes and get them “vested in the community early,” Mr. O’Connor said.
Supported through $8,000 in federal grant money, the program is inviting 13- to 17-year-old city residents to apply. Completed applications are due by April 21, with the paperwork available online at http://pittsburghpa.gov/district5/youthbudget.
Those accepted will undergo free, weekly training sessions from July through October at the City-County Building, Downtown. The gatherings will center heavily on local government operations and research, according to Mr. O’Connor’s office.
Earlier, Carlow and SLB — also known as Saturday Light Brigade — will pull together an introductory camp focusing on advocacy, policy, budgets and the media, Carlow associate professor Jennifer Snyder-Duch said.
“It’s not just that we’re doing a service for the kids. It’s not just an exercise. To me, it serves the city,” said Ms. Snyder-Duch, who also leads the local Youth Media Advocacy Project. “We’re missing part of the equation if we’re not asking them to share what they think.”
The media advocacy effort, begun in 2010, encourages young Pittsburghers to express themselves about issues that affect their lives. Supporters said the youth budget council follows a similar mission, including a hands-on learning approach. Mr. O’Connor said he wants to make the new program a regular offering.
“To me, it suddenly makes our government more understandable and responsive. It could lead to students’ wanting to become civically engaged for a lifetime, planting this early seed,” said Larry Berger, executive director at SLB.
He said the North Side-based nonprofit will help teach participants about communication and persuasion. By the program’s end in the fall, they’ll be due to make a project proposal to city council.
What they will advocate is anyone’s guess, Ms. Snyder-Duch said. She hopes participants will include girls, teenagers of color and those from poor and working-class families, she said.
“They might really push the city government to think about something that we don’t even know,” she said. “We can’t predict what they’re going to come up with because our experience isn’t theirs.”
Adam Smeltz: 412-263-2625, email@example.com, @asmeltz.
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