Continued from Part 1...
Maynard, a graduate of Sacred Heart Academy in New Haven, has served on the board all four years during high school. She said the respect the board has earned from the city is evident in the fact that other charitable organizations have asked board members to volunteer on various projects.
"We have the ability to target problems and deal with them quickly," Maynard said.
Karen Young, co-director of Youth on Board, a nonprofit organization in Massachusetts that provides training and technical assistance for organizations that want to work with young people, said there is a move nationwide to give young people greater say in matters of social work or government.
She said many school- and community-based organizations are beginning to acknowledge the importance of giving youth leadership responsibilities in such matters as drug awareness and sex education.
Young cited a recently approved Michigan law dubbed "Youth on Board" that allows individuals 16 and older to serve on boards of directors of charitable organizations.
On the flip side, Young added, if organizations regard young people who help them simply as "cute little kids," the programs are apt to fail because the youth do not feel their opinions matter.
Redding said that the youth commissioners' opinions about new recruits are taken very seriously. In the past year, 32 new police officers were added to a current force of about 450 officers. And each new recruit was interviewed by the teen-agers.
Their jobs aren't on the line when they face the teen-agers for interviews, but they do usually walk away with an increased sensitivity to the concerns of young people in the city, Redding said. Recruits write papers about their experiences with youth.
"It is one of the most animated and emotional parts of the (program)," he said. "The commissioners hold the recruits' feet to the fire."
Brooke Dozier, a former president of the board and a recent graduate of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, recalled an interview in which a recruit didn't seem to want to "bother with a bunch of kids."
Dozier and her peers told their supervisors that they thought he had a poor attitude toward young people. The officer was told to return to the police academy for further training.
"I think it was an important lesson for the police officer to learn that the youth in New Haven are a force to be reckoned with," said Dozier, now 21.
Dozier's class also led a drive to defeat a proposed curfew ordinance and a proposal to install metal detectors in schools.
Maynard said her group of police commissioners has overseen improvements in the relationship between police and young people in New Haven.
"I think young people communicate better with the police and understand them better, and vice versa," she said.