Youth ages 13 to 26 who live, learn, work or play in Long Beach now have the opportunity to vote on new summer programs with the launch of the first citywide participatory budget process.

Participatory budgeting, known as PB, is a democratic process that empowers residents to decide how to spend public dollars, and in this case, youth will determine how $300,000 of funds from Measure US will be utilized. Measure US, approved by Long Beach voters in 2020, provides annual funding for public health, climate change efforts and children and youth services and programs across the city.

The opportunity for young people to directly weigh in on the city budget comes through the Youth Power PB Long Beach campaign, which is facilitated by the Invest in Youth Coalition, and in partnership with the city of Long Beach, the Long Beach Office of Youth Development and The Nonprofit Partnership.

In March, youth-serving nonprofit organizations submitted ideas for potential projects, and over 65 ideas were proposed. Since then, selected ideas were refined and further developed in preparation for a 10-day voting period, which officially began at 4 p.m. Tuesday with a voting fair at Long Beach City College.

Ideas that could receive funding range from art and music exploration, mentorship, academic and professional development opportunities and more—but each potential project supports the goals of the Youth Strategic Plan, which includes supporting health and wellness, planning for the future, community care, housing and transportation.

During Tuesday’s fair, youth and their families were able to speak with representatives from each organization and learn more about each project—which ranged from a culturally diverse mental health awareness and wellness program with Success in Challenges, to a program focused on suicide prevention and bullying through exploring entrepreneurship with California Families in Focus.

While Yohualitztli Ticitl of Birthworkers of Color, an organization proposing a doula training program, had not heard of a participatory budget process previously, she said she enjoyed receiving feedback and support from youth throughout the process.

Youth shared concerns about navigating the health care system as emerging adults, and the training will not only allow young adults to become advocates for others, but they will learn how to become advocates for themselves, their families and their communities, Ticitl said.

A teenager stands on a small stage, that reads "Long Beach City College," at the top and a banner that says "Youth Power Long Beach, Measure US" at the bottom. The teenager is speaking into a microphone. On the grass in front of the stage, five people are watching the speaker, one person is taking a photo with a camera.
Youth can vote on four different summer programs that all support the goals of the youth strategic plan, which include supporting health and wellness, planning for the future, and providing community care, housing and transportation. Photo by Tess Kazenoff.

Supporting programs that address mental health and wellness was particularly important for high school senior Amy Khim, who is a youth leader with Khmer Girls in Action, the anchor organization for the Invest in Youth Coalition. Khim is also with the participatory budget steering committee.

“As a senior graduating this year, I experienced a big chunk of my high school experience in the pandemic, and in COVID, and what happened after the pandemic, it took a toll on a lot of students and a lot of youth people especially,” Khim said.

“I think the high school years are really important to shaping you as a person, and we missed a lot of that,” Khim added. “Mental health and health and wellness in general for youth is really important to me, because I wish someone cared more when I was going through that.”

Providing youth with the opportunity to vote, particularly youth in marginalized communities, is extremely important, said Khim.

“So many times we’ve had decisions made for us that directly impact us,” Khim said. “We’ve never really had a say, and so I think it’s really important for youth to have a platform to share their ideas and opinions, especially for the decisions that impact us the most.”

Being a part of a participatory budget process can be a piece of the solution for many issues facing youth currently, such as mental health or housing, said Poly High School student and Khmer Girls in Action member Auttum Phang.

While you have to be 18 to vote in elections, this process allows people even younger to participate and to have a voice to speak out about issues, Phang said.

“You can actually have the power to be able to use real money to get something that we want, something that could benefit us all,” Phang said.

“I really hope that there will be more opportunities like this later, and I hope in the future that I’ll still see this even as an adult,” Phang said.

Overall, 19 proposals for various summer 2023 programs are up for voting in the participatory budget process. Youth will each have four votes and can submit one vote per project, and ballots will be offered in English, Spanish, Tagalog and Khmer.

Winning proposals will be determined based on the number of votes received, and funds will be disbursed to those with the most votes until the money runs out.

Each summer program is catered specifically to youth, and voting in the process will allow youth to get better access to what they need most, such as mental health support or help with transportation, said Maygan Ngeng, a junior in high school who is also a member of Khmer Girls in Action.

“I feel like adults have their own mindsets, I guess, as older people, and they might know some things about what the youth want, but in the end, it comes down to what actual youth want,” Ngeng said.

Ishmael Pruitt of Project Optimism, a youth development organization that provides mentorship and other wraparound services to bridge the achievement gap, hopes to receive funding to extend programming to the summer time. With a focus in North Long Beach, participating youth learn how to advocate for mental health resources within their own schools, Pruitt said.

Funding for grants normally goes through a committee, “that you’ve probably never met before, maybe never will get to meet,” Pruitt said. “I think it’s time for our youth who are actually going to experience the program— they know what they need beyond what just the data says.”

Providing youth with the opportunity to vote not only supports autonomy, but teaches youth to have power in their voice, Pruitt said.

“I’m excited that the city has offered this participatory budget, and hopefully they do it again in the fall and other times throughout the year,” said Toi Nichols of M.O.R.E. Mothers. The nonprofit is proposing an art program which includes a variety of different mediums as well as admission to local museums and a community exhibition at the end of the program.

“I think the youth is really empowered by this process, and they’ve been so involved and so eager and excited, it’s been beautiful to see.”

More information on how to vote in-person or online is available here.