The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

February 23, 2012

Conneaut ‘youth summit’ attracts concerned crowd

By MARK TODD - mtodd@starbeacon.com
Staff Writer

CONNEAUT —  A concern for young people who are seemingly rootless once the school dismissal bell rings brought dozens of people to the Conneaut Public Library on Wednesday afternoon.

The library’s meeting room was filled to capacity with people who answered the library’s call for dialog over the problem of kids who seemingly are detached once school is done for the day. Kathy Pape, library executive director, initiated the meeting because a growing number of kids are congregating at the library.

“There is an increasing number of children who are unaccounted for between the time school ends and the library closes,” Pape said. “They’ve had nothing to eat, no supervision and have nowhere to go.”

The majority of youngsters aren’t troublemakers, but their aimlessness is troubling, Pape said. “They all seem to have nowhere else to be,” she said.

Another meeting — part of what could be an on-going series — will be held at 12:30 p.m. March 7 at the Conneaut Human

Resources Center. Wednesday’s introductory meeting proved plenty of people believe the situation merits the community’s attention.

The crowd was a mix of clergy, social agency representatives, city leaders and concerned citizens. A lively give-and-take opined on various reasons for the restless children, including a lack of affordable, organized activities. Many school-based activities are available on a “pay-for-play” basis that may be beyond the financial reach of some families, said Bert Drennan.

“They have to look for something that’s free,” he said.

 Most of the participants, however, put the responsibility in the laps of parents.

“Where are the parents?” a library neighbor said. “They must have homes somewhere.”

Conneaut Councilman-at-large Neil LaRusch agreed. “Parents must be held accountable,” he said.

Pape said the library staff doesn’t pry, but some kids who hang out at the library have volunteered they are locked out of their homes or have been told “they can’t go home yet.”

Edith Hough, a magistrate with the Ashtabula County Juvenile Court, said Conneaut needs to pin down the days and times the children are adrift and their age range. Kids may be roaming for reasons other than an unstable home life, she said.

“Let’s not assume they are all abused, neglected or drug users,” Hough said.

Library workers will try to gather some survey data in time for next month’s meeting, Pape said.

The audience also learned of programs in the works aimed at giving local youth a helping hand, including a county-wide initiative set to launch soon that would line up adults to serve as mentors. Closer to home, the Conneaut Rotary Club said the group is also setting up a mentorship program with the help of the Conneaut Area City Schools district, said member Penny Armeni. The club is also interested in helping students pay some school-related costs, ranging from college application fees to prom expenses, she said.

Plenty of time will be needed to study the problem, Pape said. Results won’t come overnight, she said.

“We’re going to need to work a long time and try several things,” Pape said.