SNEWS Youth Team member working with younger at-risk kids featured in news blog

Although only working as an environmental educator for a year, Anthony Shaheen, an inaugural member of the SNEWS Youth Advisory & Reporting Team, has wasted no time making a few perhaps unwanted waves in his quest to get even younger kids into the outdoors. He shares with SNEWS some publicity about a program he runs for at-risk youth.

Although only working as an environmental educator for a year, Anthony Shaheen, an inaugural member of the SNEWS Youth Advisory & Reporting Team, has wasted no time making a few perhaps unwanted waves in his quest to get even younger kids into the outdoors.

Recently, as he’s grown a program he runs for at-risk youth for his employer, the Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation Department in Charlotte, N.C., funds are needed, and the political debate is ensuing in the community about the best use of city money. The debate about such efforts, Shaheen’s program and funding became the subject of the regional newspaper’s blog.

“This article is about my program,” Shaheen, also an Outdoor Nation Ambassador, told SNEWS® when he sent us the link about the blog. “A little too political but I guess that’s what happens when you work in government.”

The blog was written by a news columnist, Peter St. Onge, at the Charlotte (North Carolina) Observer, sparked many responses from the community -- 29 as of a few days later -- some in favor of the program and its use of funds, some strongly against using the money for anything of the sort.

St. Onge, in the Nov. 6 blog titled, “A question about what government should be,” wrote this:

“After a week in which voters sent a message about what government shouldn’t be, here’s a story – and a question – about what government can do.

“It begins with Anthony Shaheen, who is 23 years old and a Charlotte native. Last year, the Appalachian State grad took a job as an environmental educator for the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department. Last fall, he helped start an outdoor club at McClintock Middle School.“McClintock is a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Title 1 school, with at least three-quarters of its population qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches. Each of the 25 boys and girls who joined Shaheen’s club were considered “at-risk” by the school system.“The idea behind the outdoor club was simple: Give the kids an appreciation of nature….”

The columnist, in interviewing Shaheen, discussed the changes in the kids Shaheen works with as well as the increase in their enjoyment of the outdoors. But then the columnist moves to the political debate:

“The changes have been so transformative that Shaheen and his colleagues want to expand the club’s concept. Their idea: Take the land at Copperhead Island on Lake Wylie and turn it into a camp for at-risk kids. The county leases the property for $1 a year from Duke Energy. The park department would need, however, to build cabins and a mess hall; the cost could be about $200,000.

“And this is the point where some of you say: Whoa.“Is it government’s role to build a camp for disadvantaged children, no matter how worthy the effort might be?...”

You get the idea where it goes from here. The columnist in a well-balanced and finely researched article, didn’t make a call but sparked debate -- tons of it -- from both sides. For example, from an anonymous poster:

“My personal opinion is that government should only provide for the protection and defense of individual liberty. When government forcefully takes from one individual his or her hard earned wealth to give to another, that government is then abusive and should be abolished. The recent election is an example of how our Founders intended the system to work peacefully. I know there will be some detractors of my comments. I would ask you: When a government expands in size and power, does that mean more or less individual liberty for the citizen?”

And from another anonymous poster:

“…Our thanks are due to Mr. Shaheen and all the private donors for the camp, who have done more for our community and our children than those of us sitting in our Southeast Charlotte homes with full refrigerators and degrees on the wall taken for granted.”

“The island that will turn into a camp is a dream at this point,” Shaheen explained a few days after the blog was first published. “I’m trying to focus on the partnerships I see daily and the kids I get to impact because that’s where I will show a need for the outdoors within the inner city.

“People want to argue the politics behind (President Barack) Obama and everything else and I try to stay out of all of it,” he said. “I’m small beans in a county budget. I affect nothing as far as a taxpayer is concerned, and I use resources that are for the most part lying dormant.”

Nevertheless, he added, “Everyone that is close to the program is very excited to hear that my work is making local news and showing an impact on our community.”

Take a look at the entire blog and the well-monitored discussion by clicking here.

Find out more about the SNEWS Youth Advisory & Reporting Team as it develops by going to Applications are still open on an on-going basis. Click here to download a form for an aspiring youth you know.

--Therese Iknoian

(Photo by Anthony Shaheen)

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