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YOUTH GROUP LEADERS DECRY FUNDING SHORTFALLS

July 10, 2003 – Tight money is putting the squeeze on programs serving the territory's young people, members of the Senate Education and Youth Committee were told at a hearing Wednesday night on St. Croix.
One after another, representatives of both community organizations and government agencies that operate youth programs took their turns describing the problems they face because of reduced funding, according to a release from the Legislature. The hearing was called to assess funding and staffing needs in light of program goals.
Nickole Trawick, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of St. Croix, said donations to the not-for-profit organization have fallen off due to the declining economy. Regular supporters have not been able to contribute as much as in the past, she said, and "this limits the programs we can offer to our children."
Renholdt Jackson, a Police Athletic League volunteer, said he believes the territory's high crime rate is directely connected to the lack of programs for youth. "The best way to fight crime," he said, "is to take a mind with nothing to do and give it something positive to do."
He called on the senators to make a focus on youth high on their list of priorities. "We have 16-, 17- and 18-year-old young men walking around here with nothing to do," he said.
Eurman Fahie, a volunteer coach at several schools, urged the senators to make funding for youth programs their No. 1 priority. For young athletes, he said, funding is critical to make it possible for them to participate in national and international events and thereby "open doors for scholarships."
Ira Hobson, Housing Parks and Recreation commissioner, said he wants to build a recreation center at D.C. Canegata Ballpark. The projected cost is $400,000, he said, and so far he has federal Community Development Block Grant funding of about half that. He said he hoped the Senate "would help in finding the balance," the release stated.
Sara Hayes, administrator of the Music In Motion dance academy, said the school, which has been in existence for 22 years, was about to close its doors recently for lack of funding. Because of private donations, the program survived, she said.
Sen. Ronald Russell, the committee chair, raised the possibility of revitalizing the territory's Youth Commission. Hobson said such a body "could work if organized properly," according to the release. Hayes supported the idea, too, saying that it would "help us with networking and organizing information."
In addition to Russell, the committee members present were Sens. Louis Hill, Luther Renee and Usie Richards. Absent were Sens. Norman Jn Baptiste, Roosevelt David and Shawn-Michael Malone.

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