By Buster Thompson, Citrus County Chronicle
When the founding members of Citrus 20/20 were envisioning the county’s future in the mid 1990s, they turned to the generation that would be living it.
During those conversations and at 20/20’s Vision Fest in January 1995, Citrus County’s younger citizens imagined a hometown YMCA, an expansion of community service opportunities for them and more safe places to play in their neighborhoods.
Fast forward to several months before 2020, and many of those visions have become a reality — but the future is always changing.
So that’s why Citrus 2030, Leadership Citrus' successor to Citrus 20/20, is being established this year to give county stakeholders — especially younger generations — a chance to shape the county over the next decade.
“Change is going to happen, and we can have it come and be reactive as it comes, or we can have a plan and we can know what we want this county to look like,” said Melissa Bowermaster, executive director of children's advocacy center Jessie's Place.
Bowermaster is part of Citrus 2030's Youth Development subcommittee, along with: Crysta Reaves, with the UF/IFAS Extension Office and 4-H; David Reed, operations director at the Citrus YMCA and co-chair of Citrus 2030; and John Weil, a member of Leadership Citrus and Lecanto High School teacher.
This subcommittee is one of 10 tasked with forming respective talking points and focus groups to present what will make up the 10-year plan at Citrus 2030’s Vision Check on Oct. 5.
“I’ve always worked with youth and just really enjoyed the potential in what kids have and how they could also give back,” Reaves said. “I’m excited to see what the group can come up with.”
“There are kids not even born yet that are going to benefit from this,” Reed added.
Citrus 2030 and Youth Development
Below is the aspiration statement of Citrus 2030's Youth Development subcommittee:
"In the year 2030 our youth will live in balance. Excellent educational opportunities will be balanced with numerous recreational activities for kids of all ages. Outdoor recreational opportunities in nature will continue in abundance and will be balanced with indoor technological and cutting edge recreation. Less-regulated free play areas will be balanced with more organized and supervised activities. Opportunities for advanced education leading to university entrance will be balanced with technical and trades-based education, preparing all of our youth for entrance into the working world with skills and knowledge regardless of career path. In 2030 our youth will be well fed, well housed, well educated, well rounded, and will speak with pride of growing up in a community with opportunity for all things and one that prepared them for a rich, civic-oriented adult life."
As Reed, Reaves, Bowermaster and Weil form up their own focus group, they’ll be looking towards the young leaders of current groups like Youth Leadership Citrus and the Interact Club to help show what they want to see in Citrus County for children and teens.
“What kinds of things do we want? We could sit here, dictate and say ... but we need lots of people in that conversation,” Weil said. “There’s just a bunch of leadership-type organizations inside the schools and out there that we can tap, like they did in Citrus 20/20.”
So far, informal talks have revolved around establishing public parks, pools and playgrounds for the county's rural communities, and giving kids an easier way to walk or bike to a pickup game or club event.
“Unfortunately, not a lot of our parks are located near neighborhoods,” Reaves said. “I grew up in Lecanto, I love the Lecanto Community Park ... but closest person is probably 3 miles away.”
“Give them more access to sidewalks and bike lanes ... so we get them out of the house,” Bowermaster added.
“And we’re going to make it easy for them,” Weil said.
Also on the discussion table is creating new, and evolving current volunteer programs to inspire children to participate in helping the county, earning pride and the respect of their neighbors along the way.
“It’s things like that will help us reach these kids who are really achieving,” Reaves said, “and hopefully it kind of trickles down and shows future generations to say, ‘look at what you can do.’”
Members of the subcommittee say they’re aware of potential policy conflicts between the county’s youth and senior demographics when comes down to implementing their focus group’s vision.
But discussions have to be inclusive, they said, or else they’ll be no compromises on how these generations can buy into projects and opportunities together.
“How we as Citrus County frame these discussions is huge,” Weil said. “We have to approach it as the win-win for all sides.”
Whatever leanings the Youth Development favor, members say it will be for the greater pursuit of raising Citrus County’s children as “happy, healthy and productive.”
“Nurturing their potential and allowing them to feel included; allowing them to see inside of themselves, getting outside of themselves, feeling like they can have a voice in something, feeling like they can belong and give back to the community.”
Contact Chronicle reporter Buster Thompson at 352-564-2916 or firstname.lastname@example.org.