I was deeply disappointed to see this year’s proposed Fitchburg Capital Improvement Plan delays funding for the Fitchburg Teen Center (to 2030!) and the Hub, both of which were approved last year after hours of supportive citizen testimony. We cannot wait 9 more years to invest in our young people.
As a pediatrician, I am struck by how these delays are wholly incongruent with the very short and impactful nature of childhood itself. Anyone who is invested in the life of a child knows all too well how quickly they grow up and how brief the window of opportunity is for shaping their lives.
Our teens and kids are our greatest resource — they are talented, capable, and insightful. My life’s work has focused on keeping kids and families healthy. Yet, what profoundly impacts well-being for all kids, and we as a community have the power to influence, are the social determinants of health.
Social determinants reflect the basic needs that allow kids to do what kids should do — to grow, play, and learn. When kids don’t have enough involvement, positive role models or enough opportunities, their health suffers and they may not reach their full potential. Health is so impacted by these social determinants that the Centers for Disease Control has made creating social and physical environments that promote health one of its goals for the decade.
Funding the Hub and the teen center addresses these social determinants. Currently, there is a dearth of community space for families in the neighborhoods where the Hub and teen center will be located. The proposed spaces will host resources that provide academic support, healthy snacks or meals, and physical activity.
For older youth, the spaces can host job-related training or counseling services. For many working families, such resources offer opportunities their children wouldn’t otherwise have. And, we know these programs work — they improve academic achievement, social behavior, and high school graduation rates.
Our community is already heavily engaged in this process. City staff and leaders have worked collaboratively to advance the projects. Volunteers have donated time and resources to see these plans become a reality.
We cannot afford to lose momentum nor appear as though last year’s approval was anything less than a commitment to our kids.
I urge our mayor and alders to invest in our children now. They are truly our future.