Thursday, February 21, 2008

Community group will guide our coverage

Last September, we announced plans for an ongoing series, Our Children First. The starting goal was a yearlong project aimed at improving public awareness of the challenges -– and opportunities -- facing Manatee County's children.

In the months since, the Herald has sponsored two drives to collect supplies for schoolchildren and for the needy, and published a variety of stories examining the challenges facing our community’s youth.

But that was a “soft launch.” What we really needed was guidance from the front line –- community leaders, parents, caregivers and, most importantly, the kids themselves.

We sought diverse volunteers to join a community focus group for Our Children First. That group met for the first time last week –- and their passionate commitment to helping the Bradenton Herald dig into this is inspiring.

For two hours, we sat in a circle and talked reality. Actually, those of us from the Herald listened as our new focus group talked. These folks are living what we want to write about. These folks are determined to get help in finding solutions to build a safer, saner environment for our kids.

The group includes that diverse representation we sought – including five high school students who vowed to get peers from all our high schools involved. Their contributions are already invaluable –- honest, brutal insights into their world today. We have our work cut out for us.

You’re not seeing participants’ names here yet because we want to keep this group brutally honest and open with us, instead of fearing their teacher, boss or neighbor might resent or prevent what they can share.

One of the more interesting outcomes of our first meeting: Adults and teenagers in our forum group usually agreed on what isn’t working, and that the challenges are taking root at a far younger age. In fervent unison, the entire focus group agreed that lack of discipline -- and lack of respect for discipline -- is key.

One other pointer we heard: Don’t just point fingers at who’s to blame. Help find solutions. And we will do that, with your help. Please keep the ideas coming. Send your thoughts, and watch our stories to give feedback.


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