Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 6:30 PM on Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Solution to teen drinking: Give them something better to do

By Todd hyde

What's a kid to do, seeing that corporate jobs are not as secure as they used to be and the only jobs left are in the "service economy." Going to college and taking on $100,000 in debt doesn't sound so good. The situation can look pretty bleak, but there is a solution, and it's not expensive. The answer is tech.

Upon graduation, any high school student can have a portfolio of quality work ready to jump right into any number of (artistic) tech careers. Homer can and should lead the new digital renaissance, giving the youth the tools to succeed in life without having to take on insurmountable debt. With the net, you can work from anywhere, so let's build Homer into a thriving tech hub — and start by investing in our youth.

Hey, everyone, do you want your kids to leave for the lower 48 right now? If not, give them the option to have a good job without having to leave, or sink themselves into debt.

Programmer, web designer, nature photographer, graphic artist, novelist, script writer, architect, 3D animator and many more — all of these are within the grasp of any teenager — for free. Did you know that the 3D animation technology used to create Pixar's and other billion dollar movies is available for free? Anyone can download it right now at Blender.org. This program is not easy, but with a bit — okay, a lot — of work, a half dozen dedicated teenagers could produce a quality animated short which could qualify them for funding for a larger project. And that's how the next Pixar might be launched.

If kids were busy animating a space battle for their portfolio, which they plan to send to Lucas Animation, maybe they wouldn't be trying to escape. Or they could be scriptwriting the next big movie, learning Flash, coding, A/V editing, or drawing the next Calvin & Hobbes, digital or not — the potential is limitless. Sure, all of this can be learned at home via the Internet, but it's so much more fun to learn it together.

We would like to set up a youth center, a safe place for kids to come learn marketable skills, play games and just hang out. But with the cost of utilities through the roof, we wouldn't be able to stay afloat. Then I read about $1,000,000 to study the problem — $50,000 would probably pay the rent and utilities for a year and the non-profit youth center would be up and running in no time. I'm a former math/computer teacher and could offer homework help as well.

I realize this idea is similar to the Boys & Girls Club, and do not wish to compete with them, merely to augment the options for the youth. They need a place that's open late year round. That's what kids do, they like to go out and socialize. At 8 p.m. on a Friday night, where are they to go now?

All of these skills can be learned with free software; learn the basics downtown, collaborate, brainstorm and generally have a blast. With the software installed at home, they can spend the requisite time mastering whatever skills they choose during those long winter nights, and in the summer they are free to roam our incredible state or work on your fishing boat.

So what do you say, citizens of Homer? I realize this is not how things are done, but "the system" appears to be broken, so I thought I'd throw this idea into the public arena. Does this idea have merit? Would it be worth it?

Ideally, there would be enough interest and money to set up a similar site for the trades. We will always need skilled craftsmen, why not have a welding, carpentry, mechanic open shop? A room with the tools and let them have at it.

There are probably some kids that would choose welding over mischief at 10 p.m. on a Friday night, so why not step up to the plate and offer the kids an alternative.

I know where there are 10 old Volkswagen Rabbits just waiting to be fixed up. Hey, kids, want a free diesel VW rabbit that gets 50 mpg, with veggie oil optional? You can have one for free, but you have to do a lot of work rebuilding it first. Out of 10, maybe five of the Rabbits could be pieced together, so let's get that shop open, wrenches turning and kids learning.

Who needs to step up? The Homer City Council. That would be nice, but if they don't, then it's the parents of Homer who, hopefully, will recognize this as an affordable, intelligent response to the teen drinking problem. Parents, if you have the money and want to fund it, or split the costs, that would be great. Otherwise, it's up to you to demand more from your city council. Join together and demand a public building be opened for youth activities, with free access always. If there are any financiers out there, sure let's make it for profit selling snacks and drinks, but never for skills or computer time — kids first, always.

Todd Hyde is a former math and computer science teacher currently homeschooling, watching his children excel in computer science and hoping to share these skills to help Homer youth reach their full potential.