NORWALK, Conn. – Two teenage mothers made a splash with Norwalk Common Council members Thursday, getting an immediate offer of capital budget funds to bring their ideas to fruition.
Tanasia Ticking and Laura Lopez, both Briggs High School seniors, presented ideas they developed while studying violence in the community to members of the council’s Health, Welfare and Public Safety Committee. Looking to move people forward with solutions, they suggested more lighting and video surveillance in the parks as well as police patrols that last longer than a month.
Supportive comments and hopeful promises of action flowed their way, and they were invited to make their presentation to the entire council.
“You’re going to change our city, the two of you,” Councilwoman Michelle Maggio (R-District C) said.
Lopez and Ticking are part of a group called “PhotoVoice” at the school, a year-long project conducted in cooperation with the Health Department. They said they began by looking for ways in which the community has a negative affect on their health. Gang violence and substance abuse would be too dangerous to photograph, and they eventually focused on parks and green space.
Drug users leave dangerous things in parks, they said. They showed council members a photograph of needles in a wooded area behind a park, which, they said, posed a danger to children. They wouldn’t want to take children to parks in Norwalk, they said.
A lot of Norwalk parks feel unsafe at night, they said, a “scary place to hang out because it was dark and full of people who look sketchy or were up to no good. Also they were full of trash and illegal activity.”
They mentioned that the only solution they had seen in the past was to tear the park down. Not good for kids, they said. Surveillance cameras with a direct feed to the police station would make them safer, they said.
They also thought schools should have more drug-free zones. Smoking is also an issue, partly because their classmates light up routinely in front of their children, they said. But they cautioned that “scared-straight commercials with scary images” and judgmental messages don’t work, and said that and drug abuse are related to stress – such as the stress derived from joblessness.
Councilman Jerry Petrini (R-District E) said their suggestions could make their way into next year’s capital budget, even though there is an election between now and the next vote on the topic, as at least some council members will get re-elected and remember them.
“This is how you guys plant the seeds with the rest of us,” he said. “By you two coming up to the full council — students that care, young moms that care — you’re going to be very well received. That’s how things start. It’s a long process, but when it comes time to it … we’re going to remember this, we’re going to say, what about these students? They want to see more lighting, more surveillance. We as council people can then funnel the money that way. We have a lot of power over the capital budget.”
The girls said they would get back to them on when they can attend a council meeting, as they have jobs — perhaps the June 11 meeting, they said.
Petrini asked them what could be done to help younger people.
“I would start in the elementary schools and bring more activities to them,” Tanasia said. “I know we don’t have a YMCA anymore. We need to open up another one so that the younger kids can go to it, because if you get younger kids involved and teach them how to grow up right, they’re going to. They’ll start influencing people under them. Me, personally, I had bad influences …. It just got me nowhere.”