All public and parochial high schools in Schuylkill County have agreed to participate in a project initiated by the county commissioners referred to as "Schuylkill County Youth Summit," which will be held at the courthouse in Pottsville on Thursday, March 21, in Court Room Number One.

Commissioner Frank Staudenmeier named Commissioner Gary Hess to coordinate the project.

"The scope of the project is to empower the youth of the county to help develop solutions, to overcome the out migration of our younger generation, which is our greatest asset and our path to bright future," Hess said. "The mission is to engage, equip and support Schuylkill County youths to live well in the county as successful adults and citizens."

The commissioners undertook this major task because for the last three censuses, the county has seen losses in its population and the county has been aging for years with 35 percent being over the age of 40 years old and 30 percent being between the ages of 19 to 39. This is the group which the commissioners believe represents a great resource for economic growth and resurgence to a better economy and community sustainability.

Each high school has assigned six students to serve on the committee to participate in the youth summit next March. A meeting was held Monday evening at the courthouse for a work session to prepare the agenda for the March date.

The commissioners announced a survey was conducted in the schools to determine what the youths think of the county, with more than 7,000 participating. The results are now being finalized. The survey asked questions of students and for them to record grades such as, strongly disagree, neutral, agree, strongly agree. The questions put to them were:

1. I like living in Schuylkill County. 2. I plan to live in Schuylkill County as an adult. 3. Schuylkill County is a good place to raise a family. 4. I know where to get help to start a business. 5. I know where to get help finding a job in Schuylkill County. 6. I believe there are sufficient job opportunities in Schuylkill County.

Also asked were these questions:

1. What are the three most important things you will look for in the place where you will decide to live? 2. What makes you proudest of Schuylkill County? 3. What are three of the most important things Schuylkill County would have to change to be a better place for young people and young families? 4. Do you have any solutions for any of the problems you see in Schuylkill County?

The goals for the summit are:

Ÿ Assessment of the assets (anything that contributes to quality of life).

Ÿ Assessment of needs (gap between what is and what should be).

Ÿ Determining and prioritizing major issues for youth.

Ÿ Determination of benchmarks (measures to determine change that is occurring).

Ÿ Facilitation of youth groups for each school district.

Ÿ Creation of an adult community leader/mentor supporting group.

The plan is to have a youth council in each school district select the priorities as their project, determine action steps in consultation with their mentor team and guide the process to achieve them. Also, report in some format all assets available to them, such as organizations, programs, etc., that could be of use for education, entrepreneurship, job seeking, etc.

The three commissioners, Staudenmeier, George Halcovage and Hess explained their goal.

"The board of commissioners wishes to take an active approach in turning around our declining population and our goal is that no young person should have to leave home to find his or her future. We hope to be able to give the youths opportunities to raise a family, have a good paying job or own a business, get good education along with enjoying some great pastimes and venues to enjoy on all levels of entertainment both in sports and in the arts.

"Through this process, we need to take on three important principles, engage our youth to be part of the solution, equip them to be successful and support their progress to help them attain success."

At Monday's meeting a draft was drawn for the summit to include speakers from government and community based organizations to address such topics as: What they expected when they were in high school? Why did they come back and what was it like? and, What advice would they give to students today?

Also, a panel of community leaders will be invited to speak from the chamber of commerce, Schuylkill County Economic Development Corporation, manufacturers, SKIP, volunteers, legislators, law enforcement, and anyone from the public who would like to speak.

In addition, a youth ambassadors council will be formed.