2014-01-24 / Community

Rockaway Youth Group Looks To Grow

By Katie McFadden

Silaka Cox, vice president of RYTF, stopped by The Wave office to discuss the group’s goals for the year. Silaka Cox, vice president of RYTF, stopped by The Wave office to discuss the group’s goals for the year. The Rockaway Youth Task Force (RYTF) has been working hard since it formed in 2011 and they’re not done yet. With a new year just getting started, the youth civic group, based in Far Rockaway, has big plans for 2014 and they’re looking for fellow teenagers and young adults to jump on board with many volunteer opportunities.

Silaka Cox, vice president of RYTF sat down with The Wave to discuss the group’s biggest goals for the year and the need for volunteers to participate. “Volunteering is a big part of our group. We have three paid staff members and two interns, but the core is our members and volunteers. We have 30 members now and 40 volunteers and we want to focus on growing our volunteer base and providing opportunities for community members to get involved,” Cox said.

Following a successful youth farmer’s market last year, the Task Force is hoping to give others the chance to grow their own produce. The group’s first project is starting an urban farm and community garden in partnership with Culinary Kids. Hoping to kick it off in the spring, the Task Force is reaching out to community members, schools, local organizations and families to grow their own produce. Starting with a garden space on Beach 58th Street and hoping to expand to a second garden on the west end of the peninsula, the group is giving anyone the opportunity to have their own space to grow crops.

RYTF is particularly hoping that local schools will get on board. They’ve reached out to Goldie Maple Academy and PS 104 already. “For those in science or nutrition classes, we hope that this becomes somewhere they can go to use as a resource,” Cox said. The second goal of the RYTF is to get more young people involved in participatory budgeting in the 32nd and 31st Districts. With participatory budgeting, local council members invite community members to exchange ideas, turn ideas into project proposals and vote to decide what proposals get funded by public money. The RYTF has been reaching out to students at Beach Channel High School, Scholars’ Academy and the Far Rockaway Educational Campus to get students involved. The Task Force is hoping to educate students about the participatory budgeting process and to engage them in the proposal writing process. “We want to teach students we’re working with to think critically about participatory budgeting. Often renovations are made to schools and places in the community with this money and we want students to learn how these decisions are made and how they can be a part of it,” Cox said.

Cox, who attended Scholars’ Academy before NYU, says that being involved in participatory budgeting helped make her college application stand out. She says that speaking to other students about the process and engaging them is a great community service opportunity that students can add to their resume and college applications when applying to jobs or school. “It’s a very exciting process because people as young as 14 can be involved,” Cox said. “We really want to encourage community members to keep up with this process and go out and vote when the ballot is released for these proposals. If you don’t speak up for yourself, no one is ever going to hear your ideas.”

The RYTF has been holding participatory budgeting meetings for youths and is continuously working to get more students involved in this year’s process which continues until April 2014. The group will continue to hold youth participatory budget meetings twice a month until the process is complete.

The third goal of the RYTF is to recruit volunteers to help rebuild homes that were damaged by Sandy. By teaming up with Friends of Rockaway, the group is going to help with dry wall installation, taping, painting and flooring in homes. Cox says the group needs to recruit 500 volunteers this year, which can be a daunting task. The RYTF recently received a $50,000 grant from the American Red Cross which they will use towards this particular volunteer effort and will hire someone to recruit the necessary volunteers for the project. The group met with Friends of Rockaway (FOR) and visited a house that FOR has been working on for several months in order to get acquainted with what the FOR volunteers do and they’ll continue to do this over the next few weeks. The RYTF hopes to participate in 24 volunteer rebuild days over the year, with the first starting in mid-February.

“It’s important to give back,” Cox said. “A lot of our members weren’t hit hard by the storm as we live in apartments. But our treasurer’s basement flooded out and Friends of Rockaway helped repair their basement. We see the need to help give back to those who are struggling to rebuild.”

In addition to these goals, Cox says the RYTF will continue doing its regular events like voter registration drives, youth town hall meetings, advocacy project, open mics and more.

RYTF started the year off in a big way by expanding its office at 19-20 Mott Avenue.

It has been in the space since April, but was able to acquire another room as of January 1st, which will allow it to hold multiple meetings at once and will give it space to get more work done. An office kickoff was held on Thursday, January 16th, which included a youth participatory budgeting meeting, an office warming and an adult support committee meeting for adults who want to support the group by finding funding, employment and recreational opportunities for youth in Rockaway.

The Rockaway Youth Task Force is comprised of members in their teens ranging to 29 years old. It is a Partner Project and 501(c)3 under the Fund for the City of New York and is funded through private grants and foundations, private donors through NY Charities, discretionary funding from local City Council members and public donations which are tax deductible. To support RYTF or to find out more about joining, check out www.RYTF.org or the “Rockaway Youth Task Force” Facebook page.

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