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Buckley youth program saved

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Last-minute cash will keep doors open another year

By Shawn Skager

The Courier-Herald

Larissa Tucey was justifiably nervous before the Dec. 13 Buckley City Council meeting.

The city's youth program coordinator sat in the front row, surrounded by youth program participants, waiting to hear whether her position, and the program itself, would receive funding in the 2006 budget.

“I think everybody could hear my heart beat in the meeting,” she said. “I usually try not to go to these meetings, but this was a big one.”

Buckley city officials had originally recommended the program be cut from the 2006 budget, because of declining participation.

Now the program will live on and have a new, permanent home adjacent to the city's skate park, courtesy of a $150,000 check from Pierce County.

Pierce County Councilman Shawn Bunney presented the council with the county's contribution to the construction of the planned youth center. The money will be added to a $200,000 Housing and Urban Development grant secured by former Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn.

“I hope there will be a vision for the kids that will help them grow into responsible, taxpaying adults,” Bunney said at the meeting.

With money secured for the construction of the youth center, all that was left for the council to decide was whether to continue to budget money for the operation of the youth program.

Playing devil's advocate, Councilmember Beverly Schneider questioned whether the city should take on the burden of funding the program, which attracts not only children from Buckley, but from surronding Pierce County as well.

“Do we have to have a youth program to build the center?” she said. “We don't have a center yet to put the program in. Is the youth center going to be something we want to keep funding? Is it the city's obligation to fund what may be a very good program?”

Schneider added that she liked the idea of having the program and center in the city, but questioned whether the community would support it.

Councilmember and mayor-elect Pat Johnson called the continued funding of the program a “quality of life issue.

“It's what makes the city liveable,” she said. “I think we owe it to these kids. Everybody wants social services, but nobody wants to pay for them.”

Continued funding for the program will come from the city's general fund, although Pierce County has contributed to the program in the past.

According to Johnson, who will take over as mayor Jan. 1, the key to funding the program in the future will be finding outside grant money.

“There is money out there,” she said. “We just need to aggressively pursue it.”

After discussion, the council voted unanimously to approve the 2006 budget containing funding for the youth program, at great relief to Tucey and the youth program participants.

“I'm excited, I can't wait,” Tosha Wilder, a 16-year-old White River High School junior, said.

Wilder has been going to the city's youth program for five years.

“I first went because it was way to get out of the house and have fun with my friends,” she said. “Now I go because I support the program and feel like I've become a part of the program. It also opens opportunity for me in the future.

“I've seen what the youth program has done for some of these kids already, I've seen the impact that it's made on them,” Tucey said.

Tucey added that much of the ground work for the center, including purchasing computers and furniture, has already been done.

“We still have a lot to work out,” she added. “We're hoping to have a computer lab, offices for future counseling for the kids, maybe a basketball court in back. It will basically be a place that kids can come to, do their homework and hang out.”

The youth center will be built adjacent to the city's skate park some time in the next 12 months.

Shawn Skager can be reached at sskager@courierherald.com.

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