City hires youth service coordinator

Since January of 2004, the Oak Harbor City Council had discussed the possibility of providing the city with a youth services coordinator.

At the end of February 2005, the council decided to adopt the proposed position. For approximately $40,000, Councilmembers hired Oak Harbor resident Jennifer Fuentes as the person to make this theoretical position into a working and valuable part of the Oak Harbor resource and leadership framework.

Altogether, the city plans on spending $75,000 per year for the position’s first two “trial years.” This amount includes the position’s salary, benefits and operating expenses.

Now, a few months after coming on board, Fuentes said she and City Administrator Thom Myers are still in the process of defining what her responsibilities are and how she should carry them out.

City Councilmember Eric Gerber said the council realized Oak Harbor has an exceptionally large population of youth and children. The council thought it was wise for the city to analyze its available youth resources and determine if local youth lacked constructive and safe programs, sufficient events or access to various forms of assistance and support.

Gerber said Oak Harbor spends a fair amount of money on senior programs and thinks it only right to spend a similar amount on the community’s youth.

“I think the goal for the present is to look at services provided and enhance partnerships,” he said.

City Councilmember Sue Karahalios said she viewed the position as someone who would act as a directory of information of all the youth organizations and services that Oak Harbor has to offer.

Karahalios said the hope is that if the city can help its youth grow, develop and find help and resources when needed, the city would help produce better citizens.

She said this position is going to help the city define its role in youth services and determine what needs youth services and organizations have that need assistance or areas of lack that the city can help fill.

“So that youth can focus their energy in the safest and most correct way,” she said.

Fuentes said her first job is to carry out a community needs assessment and see where the holes in Oak Harbor’s youth services are. She said once she finds these holes, her job will become much more defined and she can start making changes and improvements.

“I’m actually going to be serving anyone who serves youth,” she said.

Fuentes said another part of her job is to find out if youth needs or problems are as big as rumors say, or if certain issues are downplayed from actual numbers. For instance, she said she hopes to find out exact information on teen pregnancies, rate of teen drug use, if teen drinking and driving is an issue, percentages of depressed teen and possible causes for youth boredom, apathy and disconnectedness.

Another aspect of Fuentes’s job is to look for reasons why youth are not accessing or participating in current services, agencies and activities.

Councilmember Gerber said one of the first projects Fuentes will have to tackle is youth transportation. Gerber said many of the youth programs are not taken advantage of due to a lack of mobility for young people.

“There could be tons of reasons why kids aren’t utilizing the resources,” Fuentes said. “If you’re brought here and you don’t have someone to connect you to the community and to the recourses, you’re kind of left out.”

To help her find out what kids actually want and need in Oak Harbor, Fuentes said she is gathering together a panel of youth from kindergarten to 12th grade to brainstorm, problem solve and come up with ideas.

Fuentes, 28, said although she is no longer a teenager, she remembers what it was like growing up in Oak Harbor. And having gone to pre-school, kindergarten and 6th through 12th grades in Oak Harbor, she said she also knows what going through the local school system was like and has a pretty good idea of what the town already has to offer in the way of activities and services.

A 1994 Oak Harbor school graduate, Fuentes also attended Skagit Valley Community College before going on to Chapman University and Puget Sound Christian College.

Fuentes graduated with her Bachelor’s Degree in social science from Puget Sound Christian College in 1999.

While earning her degree, fuentes also worked for the Mount Vernon Oasis Teen Shelter, Central Whidbey Youth Coalition and Late Night. After getting her degree, she has worked for the Oak Harbor School District’s Readiness to Learn Foundation, worked with parents of at-risk youth and acted as a homeless liaison for the school district.

Aside from her busy educational and professional schedule, Fuentes is also a wife and the mother of three young children.

Fuentes said she always knew she wanted to work with youth. And when the position of youth services coordinator became available, she went for it hoping for a chance to make a difference in the community and help local organizations and services better reach the young citizens of their town.

Fuentes said the position of youth services coordinator will not take the place of any existing programs.

Councilmember Karahalios said the city is not going to take away from any of the local youth services because the position is strictly to fill in the gaps and network and communicate between the organizations already here.

“We can’t do it on our own, so this position would be to help others succeed,” Gerber said.

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