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Moab youths are at less risk of failing at life because of drug abuse, illiteracy and other problems reaching the crisis stage elsewhere, parents and others concluded during a recent town meeting.

Nevertheless, participants agreed, Moab's young people are not free of serious problems. They suggested several steps to enhance existing services for troubled youths and their families.The meeting established Moab as one of more than 400 communities nationwide working to eradicate problems facing young people through a community awareness and collaborative action project, "Making the Grade," begun four years ago by the National Collaboration for Youth in Washington, D.C.

The program is under local direction of the Utah State University Extension Office.

Organizer Ann Carter said others may yet join the ongoing project. Progress on plans charted at the first meeting will be reviewed and fresh ideas welcomed at a second meeting to be scheduled in October.

The group of 35 Monday decided the network of youth-oriented agencies, groups, individuals and services in Moab needs to be identified and listed in a directory "so that anybody working with youths could have a resource to call on," Carter said.

A list of people willing to volunteer to help out in specific ways with troubled youth ages 11 to 18 will also be compiled, she said.

"The main problem they said we have in Moab was lack of self-esteem in the young people, also in their parents," she said.

"Self-esteem and dysfunctional families were what we felt were the cause of a lot of youth at-risk problems. The children lack the drive and motivation to make something of themselves.

But she said they felt Moab "had a lot of positive things going for it and hadn't fallen to the point yet (described) in the national `report card.' We felt it's necessary to give kids positive recognition."

At the town meetings, participants address six problem areas: functional illiteracy, teen pregnancy, youth unemployment, substance abuse, school dropouts and juvenile crime.

"Anyone who feels those things are not reality here, they're wrong," said Tom Martin, Grand County High principal. While the dropout rate is less than the state and national average, it is still serious at 18 percent, he said.

Fewer youths seem to be as willing to take summer jobs than in previous years, said Betty Dalton, a Job Service worker. Only 48 teens participated in the summer youth program last summer, down from previous years.

"We tried to recruit as many as we could. It's amazing that I have to advertise for teenagers to apply, but they don't come and get 'em," she said.

Donna Brownelle, high school social studies teacher and senior class adviser, said she is appalled at the national report card, which shows America is failing to address problems of youths in three of the six areas and is near failure in the other three.

"I think we're wrong to continue on in this particular tone," she said. "I think our youth for the most part are underestimated. I don't think I've ever been accused of wearing rose-colored glasses, but . . . I think we have a vast majority of teenagers who make fine decisions.

"If we have a problem as a community, it's out of caring and loving. We make mistakes (but) I think we need to do more slapping on backs and less grading on report cards."