Column: St. Louis Park embraces young people

Derek Burrows Reise
Derek Burrows Reise

By Guest Columnist Derek Burrows Reise

Each week, about 10 newborns join this community. Raising healthy and thriving children should be each family’s priority. It should also be a community priority, for we bear a collective responsibility for each child in our midst. We have a shared interest in helping children grow to be healthy and contributing adults. We should be proud that St. Louis Park embraces young people.

St. Louis Park is a Children First community. For the last 25 years, Children First has existed as a partnership to bring neighbors together to support youth. It is a philosophy supporting key research-based developmental assets for young people. Trained Asset Champions are challenged to put the philosophy into practice in their individual lives.

Children need vibrant schools that meet their developmental needs. St. Louis Park is fortunate to have quality public and private schools. The school district frequently receives honors for its success providing quality education. Recently, St. Louis Park High School was rated the fourth-highest in the state by The Washington Post. Such success would not be possible without longstanding community commitment to education.

This November, the school district is asking voters to approve two bonding referendums, one to renew the current level of operational funding and the other to approve renovations throughout the district’s aging buildings. The Learning Design Team comprised of teachers, staff, parents, students and community members evaluated needs and recommendations over the course of a year. They identified the highest facility needs required for today’s and tomorrow’s students. This would be the most comprehensive package of renovations since the school buildings were initially built more than 50 years ago. St. Louis Park has a long history of voters supporting school referendums.

Young people have ever-changing needs, requiring responses from parents and the broader community. Adolescents need safe environments to start testing their independence. Over the past couple of years, young people have led a process to create a safe, inclusive space in St. Louis Park for young people to connect, socialize and study. They hope that The Nest will find a home soon. It would be a wonderful asset to our community!

Younger kids have more tangible needs. At the St. Louis Park Emergency Program, we see the struggle of families in meeting the basic needs of babies and young children. Families with young children tend to be the most economically vulnerable. When they encounter a hurdle, such as an illness, job loss or increased housing cost, they may be challenged to meet the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter for their children.

Through STEP, this community ensures all children can have access to basic needs. Thanks to donors, volunteers and staff, we provide food and clothing to families experiencing financial challenges. We give them the chance to become healthy, vibrant adults.

The basic needs STEP addresses run the gamut. For example, in recent times STEP has increased the quantity of diapers we distribute. Diapers seem like a little thing, but they are expensive and are not covered by federal nutritional assistance programs. About 30 percent of low-income parents limit the number of diapers they use due to cost. This leads to health concerns for babies but also impacts parents’ ability to access childcare opportunities. With community donations of diapers and wipes, we ensure babies’ needs are met.

There are about 8,700 children in St. Louis Park. We should not be complacent in our commitment to fully support them as they develop into healthy adults who are positive participants in our community.

Derek Burrows Reise is the executive director of the St. Louis Park Emergency Program, or STEP. He served on the St. Louis Park School District’s Learning Design Team and is a Children First Asset Champion.