Council Of Teens Advises Menino

Reporter's Notebook

BOSTON--Last Tuesday evening, Boston Chief of Health and Human Services Juanita Wade poked her head into a meeting in City Hall and found they weren't speaking the language she is accustomed to hearing in the mayor's sixth-floor offices.

Sitting around a conference table in the den of the city's top brass, 17 teenagers were yakking about sneakers, CK perfume and how they were going to straighten out Boston's inner-city neighborhoods.

The Boston Mayor's Youth Council--a group of 36 high school students selected to represent each of Boston's 15 neighborhoods--was having one of its bi-monthly meetings.

Wade had come to inform the group of a newly appointed drug "czarina"--the latest development in the city's war on drugs.

And while Wade had her lines polished after a day of spinning the media, it was this group of youngsters that was about to ask her the toughest questions.

The kids cut straight to the chase. They wanted to know what the new city employee would actually be doing.

"What is the official role of the czarina?" asked a skeptical council member.

Although it was an innocent question, it revealed the considerable gap between those who spend their days in the city's schools and those who spend their days in City Hall.

"We think differently than they do because we're coming from the youth's perspective," said Lanita Tolentino, one of the council's two Roxbury representatives.

It was just that perspective that Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino wanted to understand when he established the council in the spring of 1994.

The gum-chewing adolescents provide the mayor's office with a window on the problems that face inner-city youths.

"Its a real honest way of figuring out what's important to them," said Patty McMahon, a member of the mayor's staff who is responsible for coordinating the Youth Council.

But the partnership, which according to McMahon is the only one of its kind in the nation, is not all about talk.

Over the past four years, Menino and his Youth Council have set up a series of programs aimed at creating a more positive attitude among Boston's youths.

Council members say they have been very successful in creating jobs and after-school activities for young people.