Intersections: Advocating for the community's youth

With its safety record, bustling business environment and “perfect night-to-day activities” — as a recent Sunset magazine article described it — you can't find too much to complain about in the self-sustaining suburb of Glendale.

But when it comes to youth services, the Jewel City is suffering — city documents show they are a high-priority need that's not getting enough attention. Some community leaders fear the absence of programs coupled with economic woes are leading young people to silently fall through the cracks.

The city hopes to change that, according to the 2010-15 Consolidation Plan, which calls for a community-wide strategy and coordination to develop youth programs.

Moises Carrillo, senior community development supervisor of the Community Services and Parks Department who worked on the report, said the plan intends to improve youth and teen welfare by addressing gang activity, drugs and education.

About $4.4 million in funding from the Community Development Block Grant Program will be used for youth programs — with an additional $250,000 for youth programs related to crime and public safety — to create recreational activities, day care centers and after-school programs, tutoring and youth counseling.

As youth development advocate and industry veteran Ara Arzumanian knows, the need for programs that address these issues is dire, especially in a city where leadership needs to dig deep to find those impacted.

“There's not a whole lot of violent crime or burglary, it's relatively safe,” he said about Glendale. “It's not even a crime issue. It's about quality of life, development of our community and specifically development of adults.”

Arzumanian, then-director of the Glendale-based AGBU Generation Next Mentorship Program and now vice president of the mentoring program of Big Brothers Big Sisters Los Angeles, spoke of the problems he saw with the young people he worked with.

Whether it was gang activity, fraud or suicidal thoughts, the core of the problem, he said, always came down to the same thing — that as adults, we've abandoned them.

“We're not involved in their lives,” he said. “We kind of abandon them as teenagers, and we do it benignly.”

And by we, he means everyone.

“It's not just an Armenian thing, and it's not just a non-Armenian thing...everyone is affected,” he said.

There's also how much the economic downturn has impacted more than just finances.

Rick White, director of the Salvation Army Glendale, said he is surprised to see how much alone time kids have, adding that he's met some families who are trying to make ends meet that have five part-time jobs between two parents. That leaves little time for much else.

“It's not that the parents don't care, or don't want to be involved. It's just that they don't have the time and are struggling economically,” he said.

Though Glendale's religious community has made up for some of the slack, it can't meet the demands of a dynamic community fast enough.

Vazken Movsesian, parish priest of St. Peter Armenian Church, said although the church is able to assist families dealing with difficulty, it's usually the last line of defense. This is especially true when it comes to newer immigrants, who struggle with fitting in, finding jobs and balancing American materialism.

“These families are coming here with these expectations of a better life for their children, but they get caught up,” he said, adding that it leads to them denying children the parenting they need.

With focus on youth programs making up 54% of the social-service funds, according to the Consolidation Plan, the city plans to make a large impact — a move that can't some soon enough for community leaders who are eager for change.

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