Editor’s Note: This summer Chelsea Murray worked to produce Young Voices with a group of 12 Waterbury youth. Young Voices is a youth publication produced in partnership with The Waterbury Observer, Waterbury Youth Services and Media in Motion. The following is her column from the debut issue of the paper. Even though she is entering her second year at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY, Chelsea is still the editor of Young Voices.

   Have you ever experienced the feeling that courses through your veins when you stick a fork into an electrical socket? Well, I had never experienced vibrant energy like that until the group of young journalists I was working with this summer cut loose talking about the dress code issue one hot day in the downtown Observer office.

   After that day it was clear that we had something incredibly powerful within our reach. A fork was about to jam itself into Waterbury’s electrical socket and give city leaders a wake up call with the first issue of “Young Voices”.

   Summers for me are usually filled with traveling, family commitments, friends, and a great deal of sun. But this summer I realized it was time to grow up and step into the working world. Lucky for me I didn’t have to look very far.

   Instead of sitting around working on my tan by the pool or hanging out with my friends at the local coffee shop, I ended up doing something unexpectedly fulfilling and worthwhile with my time. The entire experience of launching a youth newspaper turned out to be more than a job for myself, Quajay Donnell, the publisher of the paper, and the young journalists who were the heart and soul of the endeavor.

  Even though I only knew these twelve talented individuals for a little over a month, they made a profound impact on me. I have been a resident of Waterbury my entire life but I had never gotten to know the fellow youth of the city until this summer. It was an eye opening experience to learn of their hardships in life and strange learning conditions in the Waterbury school system. I went to high school up in Litchfield County and we had a dress code and rules, but definitely not as strict as the ones relayed to me from this group.

   For example, I would have gotten a referral to the office for wearing a short skirt to school, but no way would I have been given an ‘in house’ suspension and forced to choke down a dry government cheese sandwich. I thought my high school was a harsh place to learn, but on second thought, I was dead wrong. The rules and regulations placed upon students in Waterbury does not always foster a positive learning environment for them to flourish. In high school I didn’t have a strict dress code and most students turned out just fine, so I personally don’t see how the dress code provides a better environment for these young people to learn in. Too many petty rules create an oppressive environment and can trigger student rebellion.

   Community leaders ask why so many kids are dropping out and staying away from school, well, look in the mirror.

   The silly rules are part of the problem.

   Obviously the administration and dress code isn’t the only part of the equation, but it is a big piece of the pie.

   Each one of these young journalists have a vastly different story to tell and it was a pleasure getting to know them and hearing bits and pieces of their lives during the six week program. Even though at times it was difficult to focus on the project with the banging noise of construction next door, the summer heat, and the nuances of getting to know one another, each and every one of them have been wonderful to work with.

    These young voices truly have a drive and passion to learn and absorb new information about the world they are living in. And they did this out of dress code. Their clothes were comfortable and appropriate and had nothing to do with the process of producing a newspaper. Within a few days of working in the journalism program they realized that they had a right to exercise their voices and they empowered themselves to speak out.

    “Young Voices” has given them the tools to express their opinions in a thoughtful and powerful manner so that their voices will not fall on deaf ears any longer.

   I have had the chance to express myself in Teen Observations for the past seven years in The Waterbury Observer, but not every child is so lucky to have that medium at their fingertips. I had the chance to write about issues that were important to me so that the readers of the Observer could pick it up and try to understand what was going through the mind of a teenager.

   I know what its like to be a teenager with problems that people just don’t want to hear about, but I actually was lucky enough to have a place to express myself with my column right here on this page. These young journalists did not have that opportunity until they stumbled into this summer program.

   Now they also have the chance to express themselves to the masses about issues that pertain to the youth of Waterbury. Hopefully someone will finally listen to them and take them seriously. Over the course of this summer I have received dozens of compliments for my writing and columns in the Observer because my voice as a teenager is unique to the adult eye. “Young Voices” is not just a page of teen observations in the midst of other information in the Observer, it is now an entire newspaper completely dedicated to the youth and their points of view on important subjects in Waterbury. These young journalists have provided the stories and subjects that are important to them and other youth in Waterbury in a mature manner. They expressed their personal opinions, but also had the chance to interview other sources to make the story more viable than just a bunch of teens squawking about the things that bother them.

   It was a pleasure getting to know these young people this summer and especially producing a powerful piece of ammunition for them to get their silenced voices heard. Keep your eyes out Waterbury, “Young Voices” is an outlet that will not go away quietly. Encourage the youth of Waterbury to express themselves and take part in the paper because every voice is worth listening to.

   For more information about Young Voices check out their blog at www.believeinmedia.blogspot.com or contact Quajay Donnell at 203-500-3891.