Community members representing parents, educators and those providing youth programs voiced concerns about housing insecurity, drug use and teen pregnancy in the county.
Several participants said such issues are a symptom of the high cost-of-living in the county which forces parents to work outside the county and are then unable to be more involved in their children’s lives.
“$3,000 plus for a one bedroom, it’s ridiculous,” said Adriana Garcia with San Benito County Health Department. “People have to look for jobs out of county, which goes back to commuting, so a whole circle of life starts happening. And then you’re not home for your kids.”
San Benito County Gavilan Instructional Site Director Judy Rodriguez said the cost of living is also impacting college students.
“I see it all the time,” she said. “Students are couch surfing and it’s really unfortunate that our community is so expensive.”
Several participants said they were worried about youth becoming involved with drugs and alcohol.
“I’m seeing a lot of marijuana [use],” Fusion Kids Center owner Sarah Minzghar said. “It’s really hard to encourage kids out of it when it’s legal and their parents are doing it.”
Jeannette Neal with Youth Alliance, a nonprofit that provides services to youth and families with the mission to build safe and supportive schools, neighborhoods and communities, said some middle school students are selling drugs in the bathrooms and threaten other students with consequences if they say anything. She added students also communicate online about dealing drugs.
“I don’t know what the answer is for our schools to do, but we need to do something,” she said.
Though there were several participants who mentioned a lack of resources in the county, San Benito County Community Health Program Coordinator Janet Gonzalez said there are resources, but agencies need to do a better job of reaching out to the community.
“Sometimes parents don’t know that there are resources out there,” she said.
Teen pregnancy was another issue brought up by multiple participants.
San Benito County Health Education Associate Caitlyn Gonzalez said there is a lack of sex education at the high school.
“Nurses are having to pay for pregnancy tests out of their own pocket when 14-year-olds go to them and say ‘I don’t know if I’m pregnant,’” she said.
She added that youth need more sex education.
“They are going to [have sex] so let’s make sure they are safe,” Gonzalez said.
When participants were asked what would be the worst possible outcome if the issues they identified were not addressed, they said drug overdose deaths, trips to the emergency room and the crime rate would increase. They also said people who can afford to leave the county would do so in search of a better life.
The group said solutions include providing community networking opportunities, having a community center that provides services and activities for youth, and collaborating in cross marketing efforts to highlight the services that are available.
As for the best possible outcomes, participants brought up having equitable, diverse and educated communities, few or no drug overdoses, and employment and mentorships for youth.
“Grooming the youth to teach each other, because when you see an adult you don’t want to listen to an adult but if your cool friend says something, he is influential and you’re more likely to listen,” said Joshua Flores with Youth Recovery Connections, a nonprofit that aims to help those with opioid and other substance use disorders by providing intervention and prevention services.
BenitoLink’s listening sessions are a continuation of those done by the Community Foundation for San Benito County. Several notable results followed the foundation’s 2011-12 listening sessions.
- The founding of BenitoLink, a nonprofit news organization serving the residents of San Benito County with local and regional news and information
- The REACH Parks Foundation, which has been central to the development of parks and walking trails in San Benito County
- The Community Foundation Women’s Fund, which has helped women with financial support and educational programs
- Local nonprofits such as the San Benito County Farm Bureau identified the need for leaders with a better understanding of agriculture, and worked to bring qualified team members into leadership positions
RSVPs to attend the listening sessions are required.
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The 2023 Vision San Benito County listening sessions are supported by the Calhoun/Christiano Family Fund and the Community Foundation for San Benito County. There are approximately 20 listening sessions scheduled throughout September on issues and solutions from many small segments of the community. BenitoLink is reporting back the results in articles about each session.