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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Mayor Mapp hosts one-day "Youth Take Over" event at City Hall Monday

Earlier this year, PHS students gathered at City Hall to express
their concerns at an expected Board of Ed budget shortfall.
(Photo courtesy City of Plainfield.)

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp is hosting a one-day "Youth Take Over" event on Monday (May 22), where sixty students from Plainfield High School will shadow and be mentored by thirty-seven city officials for a day of simulation of "running" the city.

"This event is not only about exposing our youth to the inner workings of city government," Mapp said. "It's also about lighting a spark which can lead to civic engagement on several levels. Providing mentorship and paths to education is not merely an act of good will, but one of obligation,one of many creative ways my administration seeks to engage that responsibility and build Plainfield's legacy for the future."

The students will be taken by bus from Plainfield High School to City Hall, where they will meet the mayor, have breakfast with their mentors and go through a job orientation.

Throughout the day, the students will shadow their mentors, learning how their city government works, the different jobs they might think of pursuing and the education needed, as well as discussing community issues and developing proposals for solutions.

After lunch, the day concludes with a youth "Town Council" and award ceremony acknowledging youth leadership.

The event is facilitated by Dr. Janice Johnson Dias of the GrassROOTS Community Fountion, who has previously led highly successful "Youth Summits" for Plainfield youth.

I am heartened that this program is taking place. It is an old idea and a good one, but I have not heard much of its use in recent years.

When, as a high school student, I participated in an event
like this one, the "Council's" main discussion concerned
this coal-fired power plant that displaced a popular beach.

Such a day-long experience piqued my interest in politics and public service when I was in high school (back in the Middle Ages).

Dunkirk, NY, was then a smaller city than Plainfield. When I was involved (shadowing Public Works), one of the "projects" was learning to calculate and budget for the amount of salt needed for the roads during the winter months (Lake Erie snowstorms can be huge and unpredictable) of a "typical" year and then develop alternate plans in case of more or less snowfall.

When we had our "Council" meeting, the main item of discussion was how to react to the power utility's plan to expand the coal-fired Dunkirk generating station from 200 megawatts to 600 megawatts in the late 1950s.

The coal-fired station had been a boon to the city's economy (in property taxes), and with jobs (several hundred), but at the expense of losing most of a popular municipal beach. The expansion would pretty much take the rest of the beach.

This was in the days when huge smokestacks were a sign of progress; pollution and climate change were not even on our radar. Nor was the prospect of large-scale cancer deaths among workers owing to the exposure to tremendous amounts of asbestos throughout the plant (who even knew there was a connection between asbestos and the cancer known as mesothelioma?)

Time has since moved on: the Niagara Mohawk Corporation sold its generating plants to NRG. NRG got a $110M subsidy from the ratepayers, then announced that a plan to convert from coal to natural gas was not feasible. The generating plant was mothballed in January of this year, all the workers laid off, and the City of Dunkirk deprived of $8 million in property taxes -- devastating to a small rust-belt town.

Folks long ago forgot about the beach that was impacted.

So, even though the student involvement in the 1950s learning project was perhaps misfocused (we cannot know the future), it did achieve its primary goal: to encourage students to consider career and civic involvement possibilities.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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