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Commission strives to offer opportunities to Wauwatosa's youth

Adults, students work together to keep youth engaged

Feb. 12, 2013

For more than five decades, Tosans from different walks of life and age groups have come together. Their goal: to offer viable opportunities to the city's youth.

Since its inception in the 1950s, the Wauwatosa Youth Commission has been a catalyst for a number of initiatives that have benefited several generations of school-aged children residing within the community.

Over the years, activities have included community service activities, fundraisers, opportunities to take an active role in local government and game nights.

"We try to provide entertainment, but we also want to provide opportunities to lend a helping hand when it's possible," said Kay Lorenzen, who has served on the commission the past six years.

Keeping youth engaged

Although it has evolved over the years, commission chair Sam Benedict said the group has always attempted to answer a central question: How can the city's youth spend their time when they are not engaged in school or homework?

"In many ways, this hasn't changed since (the commission) got started," Benedict said. "We're always looking at ways to keep young people engaged."

From the onset, city leaders believed one of the best ways to support engagement was to give youth within the community a voice.

Today's iteration of the commission encompasses 50 members including adults, members of the Wauwatosa Police Department, recreation staff and elected officials. The group meets monthly from September to May to discuss and brainstorm.

Half of the people serving on the commission are students and include eighth graders at Longfellow and Whitman Middle schools as well as two students at each grade level at East and West High schools.

Membership more recently has been extended to students attending private and parochial institutions in the area, including Divine Savior Holy Angels, Marquette University and Pius XI high schools.

Commission projects

One of the commission's first projects remains in place to this day. Citywide, all students approaching age 18 receive information on voting. Seventeen-year-old boys also are reminded of the Selective Service and are encouraged to sign up for it as they reach age 18.

In recent years, events put on by the commission have included Concert for a Cause, an event that featured musical entertainment and other festivities with the intent of supporting Tosa Skateboarders United and a skate board park within the city.

The commission also has sponsored such activities as bell-ringing on behalf of the Salvation Army during the holiday season and cleaning up the grounds outside Kyle's Corner, a Wauwatosa-based organization aimed at helping grieving children, teens and families cope with the death of a loved one.

Other events that have become annual traditions for young Tosans have included a middle school dance and a citywide basketball tournament.

"These started because issues had arisen in the community about a lack of after-school activities," Lorenzen said. "(Students) came to us asking for suggestions, particularly after youth restrictions were put in place at Mayfair Mall."

Benedict, whose children are grown, became involved with the commission when his children were school aged. He is one of the members behind a mock school board held annually to give youth an idea of the types of decisions actual board members are faced with, year in and out.

"It's turned out to be a good exercise because it gives the students a feel for how local government works," Benedict said.

Benedict said he is proud to live in a community that has such a well-oiled mechanism in place, and he hopes the commission continues to have a strong presence in Wauwatosa in the years ahead.

"One of the fundamentally important things within a community is giving young people an opportunity to grow up and be a part of civic life," Benedict said. "When you have this, I think it makes for a stronger community."

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