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Youth's possibilities

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WEEKS officially devoted to causes or issues have been multiplying, and many slip by unnoticed. But it's well worth noting that this week has been designated Youth 2000 Week, thanks to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and a presidential proclamation. The litany of problems facing late-20th-century American youth is by now familiar to all - drug abuse, teen pregnancy, poor education. Too familiar, perhaps. Too easy to shrug off as old news, and nearly unsolvable in any case.

That would be a terrible mistake. Stories about young gang members peddling crack, or about rich suburban kids ruining their lives with alcohol, should always jar us. These are lives that could be productive, and we all have a stake in stopping their destruction. Similarly, accounts of young people who find meaning in school, in community projects, in their churches - often, though not always, with the help of adults - should waken us to the unlimited possibilities of human renewal.

HHS suggests that religious leaders, community groups, and individuals consider forums on the problems of teens, job fairs, school-support programs, and dozens of other projects aimed toward youth.

One further suggestion: Make sure young people are represented in the planning.

Youth 2000 Week is described as an effort to prepare young Americans to take part in the national prosperity that will provide employment for every citizen by the turn of the century. Ten to 15 percent of the country's children - mostly but not exclusively black, brown, or poor - are not being prepared. They are called ``at risk.''

The risk is spread around, touching everyone concerned about crime, inequity, economic drain. Any effort to start us thinking about how we can help reduce that risk is noteworthy indeed.

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