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OPINION: Our children inspire promise for future

Whether the focus is local or statewide, as mayor of the City of Greenwood, I am committed to achieving our goal of “Moving Greenwood Forward, Together.” This goal involves every citizen and encompasses an array of areas that are essential to the continued growth of our community. The City of Greenwood employs 277 individuals and provides services to more than 18,000 residents. Therefore, it is vital we discover avenues to ensure the continued growth and stability of our city. We believe the key lies in providing our youth with opportunities to display their talents and enhance their leadership skills.

We take great pride in being an equal opportunity employer. This opportunity extends to the youth in our community. We utilize youth services throughout the year in different areas. During the school year, we employ one student worker to assist in the City Clerk’s Office. Throughout the summer, we hire five maintenance workers and seven recreation team assistants to assist with our Summer Parks Program. In addition, 15 youth are employed through our Urban Youth Project Program.

Needless to say, I was overjoyed to learn stimulus funds would be made available to employ 200 youth in Leflore County this summer. Leflore County is among 14 other counties in the Delta Workforce Investment Area to receive funding to provide youth with summer employment. The program is geared toward economically disadvantaged youth between the ages of 16 and 24. We hope to offer more job opportunities within the city to young people through this program. An opportunity such as this not only stimulates the economy, but also stimulates young people to be professional and responsible in their everyday lives.

Serving as mayor has afforded me the opportunity to reach more young individuals than I ever imagined. Statistics reveal the high school dropout rate for our city is 32 percent, and the state’s average is 15.9 percent. Our graduation rate is 62.4 percent, compared to 73.8 percent statewide. Although these statistics are alarming, they fail to answer the key question: Why? These figures do not evaluate the individual circumstances nor offer solutions. Although the city does not have funds available to hire a substantial number of young people, we do offer other services to aid in their development.

During my administration, I have expanded the Summer Parks Program to 200 youth and implemented Greenwood’s first Mayor’s Youth Council. These programs consist of educational and recreational components, thereby providing a platform for our children to display their talents and enhance their social and leadership skills. During this six week program, the focused areas are health and fitness, education, professionalism and etiquette. Field trips are added to enhance their learning. Volunteers from the community discuss an array of topics ranging from drug awareness to career development.

The Greenwood Mayor’s Youth Council consists of 34 ninth- through twelfth-grade students who are committed to achieving excellence inside and outside the classroom. These students are actively involved in the community and have earned numerous community service hours. We believe instilling volunteerism and community service contribute significantly to the continued growth of our community.

My involvement with youth inspires me daily to fulfill the goal of “Moving Greenwood Forward, Together.” I firmly believe this vision cannot be achieved if our young people are not included in the process. Their voices must be heard. Their concerns must be addressed. Their needs must be met. These are the leaders who will one day conduct the business of the city and carry our vision forward. I challenge every community leader to take an active role to ensure our children are included in the political process. Remember, they are our young entrepreneurs!

Sheriel F. Perkins, mayor of Greenwood, contributed this Op-Ed column for the Mississippi Business Journal. For a public official or newsmaker to contribute an Op-Ed column, contact MBJ Managing Editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com.

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