METHUEN — High school students are expected to play a significant role in spending $200,000 of state money recently secured by Sen. Diana DiZoglio to establish youth programming in the city, she recently announced.
DiZoglio said she sought funding after recognizing Methuen among a few communities in the Merrimack Valley without a formal youth center or exclusive agency for young people.
The money is allocated to the local nonprofit Inspirational Ones, DiZoglio said. Founder Susan Leger-Ferraro will collaborate with Methuen Public Schools Superintendent Brandi Kwong and others to initiate a pilot program.
To start, Kwong chose eight students, each of whom was tasked with recruiting others after an inaugural virtual meeting last week, according to Leger-Ferraro.
Though specifics of what the program will be are unclear, Leger-Ferraro said the group is well on their way to testing ideas, including the possibility of a brick and mortar location.
“Our intention is to create college and career opportunities,” she said. “What we realize is how many young adults go to school or embark on something after high school and turn back to say they don’t know what they actually want to do.”
The pilot program will focus on creating outside-the-box learning experiences and career opportunities, with a focus on engaging under-served youth.
As the coronavirus pandemic reframes the way services can be delivered for the foreseeable future, the focus of the pilot phase has pivoted, according to those involved.
Partners said they have sought online resources and virtual programming to introduce local youth to education and workforce paths that were previously inaccessible.
“Now more than ever during this COVID-19 emergency, youth in our community who are stuck at home, separated from their peers, are in need of vital services to keep them connected,” DiZoglio said.
“The goal of this project is to provide them with that connectivity, as well as the mentorship opportunities and social and emotional learning to inspire them to pursue their unique talents and reach their goals," she added.
Molly Beeley, a Methuen High junior involved with the group, believes her peers are well on their way to establishing a lasting city program.
“I’m excited to introduce a new way to engage youth in our community,” she said “I think the Methuen Youth Innovation Project will offer our generation a unique and personal connection and will open a new door of opportunities for all of Methuen’s youth.”
Another junior, Lukas Karagiorgos, described his participation as “a blessing.”
“The Methuen Youth Innovation Project is not only a great way for students and kids from our community to hang out and connect, but also an opportunity to give them the tools and resources they need to succeed in the future,” he said.
Leger-Ferraro admitted the kids were quiet before opening up and sharing ideas.
“How do kids become leaders?” she questioned, “if we’re not giving them leadership opportunities?”