By Leigh Irvin
BLOOMFIELD — A local group is trying to find out how to improve the lives of youth in the community, and it has been getting some answers by speaking with teens.
The Bloomfield Care Coalition meets monthly at the Bloomfield Senior Center and consists of parents, educators, students, law-enforcement officials and representatives from health care and other community sectors.
The group began by focusing on the problem of youth substance abuse, but decided it needed to hear directly from the community to pinpoint the most prevalent problems facing youth currently.
"We thought it was important to have the youth perspective, as it shouldn't just be about what adults believe," said Pamela Drake, Director of San Juan County Partnership and the group's founder. "Asking for the teens' input will also motivate them to become part of the solution."
To accomplish it, BCC members recently surveyed families at several community events and also conducted focus group studies at Bloomfield High School.
Students were asked what they like about their community, whether they feel safe in their community, and what would motivate them to get more involved in their community.
While students provided various answers, one common theme was that teens would like to have more opportunity to get involved in their community, and they would like their opinions heard.
BCC members wondered if one successful Farmington-based program that has allowed teens to share their voice might also work in Bloomfield.
The Mayor's Teen Advisory Council meets the first Thursday of each month at the Farmington Public Library and invites teens to discuss various issues with Mayor Tommy Roberts.
Beth Fritz is one of BCC's members and says Bloomfield had such a teen council years ago.
"It was fabulous and was very effective, and was a proactive way for Bloomfield teens to give their voice," Fritz said. "I think it's important to hear those voices, as teens don't often get listened to in positive ways."
Bloomfield Mayor Scott Eckstein said he is not opposed to the idea of a Mayors Teen Advisory Council in Bloomfield.
"I would like to find out about it, and find out what direction they'd like to take with it," he said.
Flo Trujillo, of the Farmington Public Library who helped establish the Teen Advisory Council under Mayor Bill Standley's term, said every student in the county receives an invitation to attend the monthly council sessions.
"I want to make sure every student knows that the council is open to everyone, and we even hold sessions once a year in Shiprock. We want to invite every teen to come and have a voice," Trujillo said.
Trujillo said the meetings can be held in different locations throughout the county and liked the idea of a separate Teen Advisory Council being established in Bloomfield.
"I think it would be great if every city had a teen council. If each city would allocate $1,000 a year from their budget, that's not much to give to the youth in the community," she said.
Trujillo said the next Teen Advisory Council will be held at the Farmington Public Library on December 6 at 7 p.m., and will consist of a Skype session with the Associated Students of Fort Lewis College.
Additional feedback from the BCC student focus group sessions indicated that many teens have a desire to help improve their community through projects such as those overseen by the Youth Conservation Corps.
"We have had YCC projects in Bloomfield offered through the Fire Department, including the red brick walkway along the river," said Wendy Kent, Executive Director for the New Mexico YCC.
Kent added that the YCC commission is currently interested in project proposals that tie educational credit hours into projects.
BCC invites anyone from the county interested in helping youth to join the group, which meets on December 6 at 8 a.m. at the Bloomfield Senior Center. For more information, contact Pamela Drake at 505-566-5866.