By Sue Favor
LOS ANGELES — City and community leaders are celebrating the inclusion of funds for the first-ever Youth Development Department in the city’s proposed 2021-22 budget.
Mayor Eric Garcetti has dedicated $1.1 million toward the creation of the department that will focus on youths aged 10-25, and will provide services for counseling, job preparation skills, financial literacy, technology assistance, and in other areas that will prepare them for the future.
The proposal is a victory for City Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, who has advocated for the creation of a department for youth since being elected in 2018. She said she was elated at the funding announcement because she recognized it as a milestone in the longer journey to achieving systemic change.
“The formal process to establish the department has still not been adopted, and I am eager to get that accomplished and funded in this upcoming budget process in the next few weeks,” Rodriguez said.
Once the council approves the budget, the first priority for the Youth Development Department will be to hire a general manager and structure the organization.
“I am eager to begin work in expanding youth leadership and employment opportunities to begin the work of addressing the trauma and impact that young people have experienced from the year of learning loss as a result of the pandemic,” Rodriguez said.
The funds will be seed money needed to create the department. Los Angeles is the only large city that doesn’t have a dedicated department and strategy for addressing youth issues, according to Lou Calanche, the executive director of Boyle Heights-based youth organization Legacy LA. For about 20 years, funds for youth have been spread out between 60 city departments with little or no coordination between them.
The Invest in Youth Coalition — a part of Legacy LA — is comprised of nonprofit educational groups, community leaders, community organizations, parents, neighborhood groups and young people from all over the city. Together, they have been urging the city to create a department for youth for the last seven years.
Calanche said last week’s announcement that funds will be set aside brought joy to all involved.
“I hope that this is just the beginning,” Calanche said. “We want to [see] thousands and thousands of young people that are empowered, that are employed, that have access to all the resources that they need to succeed.”
Legacy LA has recommended the city focus its youth resources on areas with higher needs, like South L.A.
“It is our hope that in the future the City will invest close to $100 million to support youth development,” Calanche said. “The priority will be the high need areas and where there is a higher concentration of youth needs. South L.A. has high poverty rates for youth and tremendous need for resources so I imagine that it will be a significant priority for the Youth Development Department.”
A high school senior and a member of the Invest in Youth Coalition who shares a name with Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez said she is ecstatic that services will come to her community.
“As someone who was born and raised in South L.A., I’ve seen so many disparities especially in the quality of education we receive and the resources provided,” Rodriguez said. “As the youth representative on the Youth Development Task Force, I had the opportunity to listen to other youth throughout Los Angeles and their stories. Hearing about the obstacles they had to overcome, especially as first-generation students, has shown the severe lack of resources for youth trying to pursue higher education.”
Rodriguez said resources will provide the assistance that young people have long needed.
“I see so much potential in what this department can offer, and I hope to see it continue to grow,” she said.
Lucy Herrera first joined Legacy LA in 2009, and now serves as the leadership program and community engagement director. She said she has stayed with the organization all these years because it offered safety and support.
“My involvement in Legacy LA made me believe in myself as a leader, and develop my skill set to later become a mentor for youth who are growing up in the same community … that I was raised in,” Herrera said.
As one of the Invest in Youth Coalition members that have been pushing for the youth department for the last seven years, she is hopeful that its new programs will help young people as she has been guided.
“We want to ensure that youth have decision making power within the department, that there is coordination when it comes to youth programming, and that every single youth living in the city of Los Angeles has the tools that they need to be successful,” Herrera said.
City officials will continue to discuss the entire budget this month.
Sue Favor is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers, who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.