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What do kids want?

What activities are there for kids in Oak Harbor? What do the young people want? What do they need?

A city committee set up by Councilman Eric Gerber last fall is trying to answer these questions. Friday, May 23, the committee is hosting a unique “Youth Rally” to gather input from a large variety of service providers, those who work with youth, as well as the kids themselves.

“It’s an opportunity for kids to share their ideas,” Gerber said, “and say what they feel the needs are in the community.”

The event runs from 2:45 to 6 p.m. at North Whidbey Middle School.

Senior Planner Rob Voigt, the staff member on the committee, said the meeting will be videotaped. Afterward, an edited video and a report on the meeting will be presented to the city council, as well as the community. He said there will also be recommendations attached to the report on what the city should do for the youth in the community.

“We understand the role of the city is limited, as it should be,” he said, “but we can act as change agents or facilitators to make things happen.”

While some may view Oak Harbor as somewhat of a retirement community, Gerber points out that statistics show that the city has a very large population of school-aged children. According to the 2000 Census, nearly 32 percent of Oak Harbor’s population is under 18 years old, while nationwide less than 26 percent of the population is under 18.

In fact, Oak Harbor has one of the highest number of school-aged children, per capita, in the state.

Gerber was formerly the city’s summertime recreation director, but the position — and much of the city’s youth recreation program — was eliminated about four years ago because of budget problems.

Yet Gerber argues that the city can still play a role in helping youth without spending a whole lot of money. For example, he said the city could bring youth-related organizations together and help them communicate to better serve the kids.

There’s a lot of them out there. Voigt said he sent out 120 invitations letters to organizations, agencies and even businesses involved with youth, from sports leagues to Child Protection Services.

Roosevelt Rumble, director of the Boys and Girls Club of Oak Harbor, said it’s also vital to give the children a voice. He said the club’s “youth media team” has been working to round up kids for the rally and come up with questions to discuss.

“It will also help,” he said, “to make kids aware that there are a lot of organizations with activities available for them.”

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