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Salt Lake City's West Side gets short shrift on Youth City programs

Published January 13, 2014 12:15 pm

Arts and culture programs aren't reaching many area kids.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Salt Lake City's Youth City programs offer after-school and summer activities in arts, culture and government and earn praise for their rich curriculum — but they don't reach many of the kids they would help most.

According to a Salt Lake City Council staff report, Youth City reaches very few west-side youngsters, although almost half of the city's children and teenagers live west of Interstate 15.

Youth City is geared toward ages 9 to 14, according to its mission, which states that the program "fosters positive youth development in Salt Lake City by providing out-of-school opportunities for social, emotional, skills, character and citizenship development in an inclusive environment."

But the council staff report reveals that of the 1,623 youngsters in Youth City programs in 2012, only 169 — or less than 11 percent — were from west-side neighborhoods, which are home to about 46 percent of Salt Lake City's youngsters. Just 61 resided in District 1 and 108 in District 2.

By contrast, 530 kids in the east-side District 5 participated in Youth City; 348 youngster from east-side District 7 took advantage of the programs; and 269 kids from the east side's District 4 signed up for the after-school and summer programs.

Youth City was created in 2000 to serve kids citywide. Just why the programs are not reaching more west-side youngsters is difficult to understand, said Councilman Kyle LaMalfa, who represents District 2.

"By bringing it to the council, my goal was not to embarrass anyone — but to seek better distribution for one of the best after-school programs offered in Salt Lake City," he said.

The after-school and summer programs are important in communities that include minorities, refugees and low-income wage earners, said state Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City. Programs, like Youth City, can be an integral part of a youngster's education and help them succeed in school and beyond.

The Youth City programs are held during times when many parents may be working, and, as such, keep youngsters busy and out of trouble, according to the program's website.

James Rogers, who was just sworn in as the District 1 councilman, said he didn't understand how Youth City programs could have become slanted away from the west side.

"I'm in this job for the first week and have a view of an outsider looking in," he said. "And you have to wonder how it got like this."

Nonetheless, Rogers said bringing the inequality to light will help build the program on the west side.

"I'm optimistic that these programs will be available to more west-side kids," he said. "And it will be a game changer for them."