Eleven young Bell Countians recently gathered together for a Promise Zone Youth Town Hall meeting to send a message to those in charge of the Federal Promise Zone initiative.
The young people in Bell County care deeply about their community, value the assets that they have here, want more opportunities to work and return to their home county, and would like a way to engage with their peers while being active and healthy.
Organized and supported by Bell County 4-H Youth Development Agent Brandy Calvert and moderated by UK Cooperative Extension Senior Associate Marisa Aull, the Promise Zone Youth Town Hall meeting was an opportunity for selected young people in Bell County to be included in the input and planning process for the Promise Zone initiative announced by President Obama in his last State of the Union address.
The idea for the meetings was born during a discussion between county officials and executive directors from different involved organizations.
According to Aull, the general consensus was that youth were leaving the Promise Zone counties to pursue better opportunities and live in more prosperous regions. She said that one of the people at the table asked the question, “If the youth are leaving, then why aren’t you asking them what they think?”
It was, indeed, a novel and good idea.
According to Aull, “the comments from the youth in your community truly captured many of the issues the county is facing and their solutions to many of the problems were extremely insightful.”
The group agreed the county has many great attributes.
“It’s small, so if you make a name for yourself, everyone knows and supports you,” one student said.
Other positive attributes they agreed on: The people, the natural beauty of the mountains and landscape and the strong community bond.
They also agreed there are ways the county could improve:
Bell County High School Senior Kelly Brown said, “We need more opportunities to excel. There’s a tendency— because it is a smaller community — to push everyone to do the same thing. There needs to be some individualization. If only one or two people are interested in something, then that’s okay too.”
The students did feel drug abuse is an issue in the county, but they did not discuss drug abuse at length. “Drugs are everywhere,” they agreed.
The group also felt that they were not afforded opportunities that students in other schools might receive.
“I would like to have more information about opportunities in postsecondary education, not just college, but also trade schools. College is not for everyone,” another Bell County High School senior said.
What would they like their community to look like in 20 years? The responses include less drugs, cleaner, renovated, revitalized and more job and career opportunities.
Lastly, the moderator posed an interesting question to the group. “If I could grant one wish, if I had a magic checkbook, what would you want in your county?”
The answer might surprise some. The group of Bell County youth representatives almost in-unison responded that they would like a recreation/physical fitness center. Complete with an indoor pool, walking track, weight rooms, cardio rooms, a place for basketball, tennis, volleyball and more.
Bell County High School teacher Nick Napier attended the meeting with several of his students. “I’m very proud of the students who were here today,” he said. “This benefits them. It makes them take a stronger look at their community, their future and it gives them a stronger voice. I’m very proud of my students today.”