Youths lead groundbreaking budgeting process
December 7, 2022 | By Christopher Keizur | Originally Published in the Gresham Outlook
Hundreds of Reynolds high schoolers brainstormed ways to spend half a million dollars as part of a groundbreaking funding process taking place in Oregon that puts the power in the youths' hands.
Tuesday, Dec. 6, classes of Raiders swung by the multipurpose room at the school to learn about YV2 (Youth Voice, Youth Vote), a program of Participatory Budgeting Oregon — a months-long process that is bringing together young voices to come up with ideas and ultimately vote on how to spend $500,000 of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds set aside by elected leaders in Salem.
"The youths are able to dip their foot into the world of budgets and funding," said Blanca Gaythan Farfan, policy/communication director for PBO.
The event at Reynolds was the latest effort from teens and young adults in Gresham, Wood Village, Fairview, East Portland, rural Multnomah and North Clackamas County, who have been regularly meeting during fun outings to come up with ideas for the money.
"This is one of the biggest crowds of youths we have achieved," said Deian Salazar, a David Douglas graduate and staff member with Participatory Budgeting Oregon. "We want to inspire the next generation of youths to get involved and build a better future."
At Reynolds they used crafts to help the nearly 550 students who participated formulate their thoughts. They made creations from a table of knickknacks; used vials to visualize what polling has found the wants of the community to be; and balanced community wants with funding mechanisms using an actual scale. Then the students wrote out their ideas and added it into the system.
For Xochitl Carrasco the event was a homecoming. The 25 year old is a Reynolds High graduate, and was also a key part of the steering committee process.
"It is motivating to see youth take up these leadership opportunities," she said. "As a student you are often told to get involved after you graduate, but partaking in this process is empowering them to have their voices be heard."
The projects all fall under one of five themes — youth health services; housing and homeless services; youth public art; youth recreation and cultural programs; and economic justice. And it's not all some ethereal concept.
"Some of the ideas are bold and ambitious and may fall beyond the scope of this project," Salazar said. "But we can take those ideas to elected leaders and other groups to help spur them to action."
Every step of the process has been about and by kids. They were the initial consulting group, the steering committee that created the framework for the project, and the idea creators currently in full swing. The next step will be a group of local youths who will be paid to distill those ideas into 13-15 tangible projects, which will then be voted on in the spring. The ultimate goal is to have 5-7 projects getting about $50,000-$100,000 each.
All of this not only spurs youth voices, and gets them active in bettering the community, but also test drives the participatory budgeting process, which is when community members have a direct say in how to spend portions of a public budget. In the past the concept has been bandied within the city of Gresham as a possible way to guide parks and recreation funding, but has never actually been done in Oregon before.
The youth-led program is supported by nonprofit organizations East County Rising Community Projects, Participatory Budgeting Oregon, Play Grow Learn, The Rosewood Initiative and Unite Oregon. The goal is to engage at least 5,000 youths.
"All of the best practices for participatory budgeting show that it can't just be a one-off thing that people will forget about," Gaythan Farfan said. "We are working to find the funds for a second round."
The hope is a second cycle to allocate further public funds in 2023 or 2024. Learn more at youthpb.org.