The community’s cost of disengaged youth can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, said Sol Anderson, youth coordinator for the City of Evanston and director of the Evanston Youth Initiative. A high-school dropout can cost a community more than $250,000 in police and social services over a lifetime, he said to the members of the City’s Human Services Committee on Aug. 3.

In Evanston there has been an increase in violence, gang activity and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and infections (STIs), he said. Figures show that nationwide one in four teenage girls will have an STD or an STI, Mr. Anderson said.

It is not a secret that many of our youth are old beyond their years. Their eyes have seen too much – poverty, violence, or things they feel are beyond their reach. Many have felt too much – pressure to belong, to perform, to get good grades, or, conversely, to drop out, take drugs, join gangs, drink alcohol and engage in other dangerous or antisocial behavior.

 

Education is the answer. The life of the mind is the richest one that can be achieved. Art, music, literature, languages, philosophy, history, science, research – all these can transform a lackluster existence into one that is completely alive, awake and aware of environment, duty and place.

To achieve this, to be able to think critically and grow into responsible adults, students must be able to read, write, and do more than basic math and science. Yet some youth cannot read well enough at 14 or 15 to maintain an interest in school.

Others are so pressured by the need for good grades they forget to enjoy what they are learning.

As a community we cannot continue to consider our youth expendable. We need to catch all these groups before they fall.

Still there is some good news on the home front.

The City’s Youth Council, to which Mr. Anderson is staff, have made several overtures this year to bring disengaged youth to school or social activities, implement peace initiatives and turn the disaffected youth of Evanston toward more positive goals. Among things planned for this year are a peace mural on a wall on a

Simpson Street

business, a get-tested-for STDs-and-STIs day, the third annual youth summit and the second annual battle of the bands.

Coming to a close next week is the City’s Summer Youth Employment Program, which matched nearly 200 youth to local jobs for the summer. Cam Herth, director of SYEP, told the Human Services Committee that more than 500 youth had applied for jobs in SYEP this year. The City keeps tabs on the youth who were not hired, he said, sending them information about job openings and job-readiness classes.

Clearly, the cost of engagement is high – a lot of time, money and care has to be spent on youth programs and social and educational support. But the cost of disengagement is higher: crime, dropouts, drugs, gangs, early pregnancy, and lasting disease.