“All kids are at risk,” Butch Kisiah told Asheville City Council members during their March 16 work session. As the city’s superintendent of recreation, Kisiah was urging Council to endorse a new At-Risk Youth Initiative.
The program, he explained, targets teens from low-income families and single-parent homes; “latchkey kids” who come home to an empty house, because both parents work; and any kid who needs a place to go after school, on weekends and during holidays. Coordinated by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, the project aims to provide a safe haven for kids, especially teens, said Kisiah.
“This initiative is not a single activity or event,” he reported. Instead, it represents a comprehensive effort by city staff to use community centers — which are spread across the city and accessible to most teens — as places where kids can use computers to do homework and surf the Net; enjoy video games and other teen-oriented entertainment; or simply “be with friends, be safe and have an adult present to guide, support and nurture [them].”
City staff, Kisiah mentioned, were inspired by seeing certain homes along a golf course marked with orange flags — to indicate safe havens for golfers during lightning or other storms.
But the city’s program won’t just give kids a safe place to go: He also noted that 75 percent of all crime in the U.S. is youth-related, and that 93 percent of all youth crime occurs between 3 and 8 p.m.
To give at-risk teens a positive alternative, Kisiah said the program plans to expand community-center hours, to provide more evening and weekend activities; to hire an outdoor-adventure coordinator for such events as camping and a high-ropes challenge course; and to coordinate several special programs with the local YMCA, the Asheville Police Department and the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Council. The program will also work in cooperation with the city’s summer-employment program for youth and Teen Leaders groups, he continued.
“[The initiatve] is an ongoing collection of activity, support and organization,” Kisiah said.
Council members agreed to endorse the initiative, although Mayor Leni Sitnick argued that the “at-risk” label should be removed.
Kisiah responded that no one wants to label kids; but the at-risk description makes it easier to receive state, federal and private grants. He estimated that 85 percent of the more than 2,000 kids involved in city Parks and Recreation programs last year were at-risk youth.
Council members directed staff to place an endorsement resolution on the March 23 consent agenda.
Keep on truckin’
Asheville City Council can’t make any tow-truck operator “a nice outfit to deal with,” City Attorney Bob Oast told Council members on March 16. But they can make private-parking-lot owners display — consistently and clearly — the signs warning drivers that they may be towed.
In the past few months, Council members have heard a number of complaints about “ruthless” towing operators in downtown Asheville, Mayor Leni Sitnik observed.
“There is very little we can do to regulate the price and method of towing [in] private lots,” Oast responded. “What we can do is regulate the signage.”
Council member Barbara Field proposed amending the city’s sign ordinance to set size, height and visibility standards for towing notices in such lots. She also suggested presenting the idea to members of the Merchants Action Coalition and the Downtown Association, before taking such action.
Oast recommended requiring that signs be placed at parking-lot entrances, instead of on adjacent walls. Size matters too, noted Oast, explaining that he had inadvertently suggested limiting towing signs to 36 square inches. “I meant three feet by three feet,” he said.
Council member Chuck Cloninger noted that a 36-square-inch size limit would mean signs could be no more than 6 inches on a side. On a more serious note, Cloninger remarked that some small lots might not need a sign at the entrance, and he would hate to make owners put up more signs (Cloninger is an staunch proponent of reducing the number and size of business signs in Asheville).
And Vice Mayor Ed Hay pointed out that some private-lot owners may not want to tow, and shouldn’t be required to post signs.
Oast said he’ll bring a draft recommendation to Council in the coming weeks, taking their concerns into account.
A litter bit of help
Asheville Mayor Leni Sitnick invited Council members, city residents and business owners to take part in the Greater Asheville-Buncombe Cleanup, which kicks off on Thursday, March 25 at the Cornerstone Restaurant on Tunnel Road, at 11:30 a.m. The campaign will include a “honk against litter” project (she invited Council members to don orange safety vests on April 22 and stand at major intersections, soliciting honking). There’s also a west Asheville cleanup, scheduled for Saturday, March 27 at 10 a.m., on Haywood Road.
“We’re asking everybody to give us an hour: Roll up your sleeves and help us clean up,” said Sitnick. The campaign’s slogan is, “Mountain pride is picking up.”
For more information about specific events, call Quality Forward at 254-1776, or city Recycling Coordinator Karen Rankin at 259-5936.