Local teens threw a monkey wrench into the machine of Californian individualism Wednesday evening when they got more than 200 people talking about one goal — creating a better future for Napa’s youngest residents.

A two-hour community meeting at McPherson Elementary School’s multi-purpose room — led by 20 members of Leadership Academy Youth Leaders in Action — drew parents, students, teachers, local officials, business owners and others who live and work in the McPherson neighborhood. The event represents one of the first phases of the leadership academy’s latest undertaking — the McPherson Neighborhood Initiative.

“The main goal of (the project) is to band together to provide a future of possibilities for children of this neighborhood,” said Leslie Medine, executive director of On the Move, a nonprofit organization that oversees the leadership academy.

Wednesday’s meeting, conducted in English and Spanish, was the first large-scale opportunity for McPherson parents, students and many others to take charge of their community, Medine said.

In McPherson’s multi-purpose room, she said, 20 focus groups worked simultaneously to discuss existing services for children and families and voice ideas for new ones. After that, Medine said, children and adults voted, coming up with a list of common priorities.

A vote tally Wednesday night revealed needs for more volunteer opportunities, a neighborhood watch program, adult education and other programs. Bilingual services are also in demand. Tamara Sanguinetti, principal of McPherson Elementary School, said about 90 percent of the school’s 614 students are Latino.

Karla Gomez, a 16-year-old Napa High student and leadership academy member who emceed the event, called Wednesday’s meeting “an important step for the future of Napa’s kids.” Gomez said in addition to finding ways to boost standardized test scores at McPherson itself, preparing students in schools throughout the area for college earlier is another of her group’s goals.

“People hear about opportunities, but you have to open the door,” added Gina Solis, a 16-year-old leadership academy member.

Mapping change

While Wednesday’s meeting was crucial to the success of the McPherson Neighborhood Initiative, leadership academy members began working on the ambitious project with On the Move and McPherson administrators back in spring of 2007, Medine said.

The first step was defining the McPherson neighborhood. Using McPherson Elementary school as a hub, she said, leadership academy members created a map illustrating the target neighborhood. The area is roughly bordered by Soscol Avenue, Trancas Street, California Boulevard, Jefferson Street and Caymus Street. The McPherson neighborhood is also home to Valley Oak High School, Clinic Ole, Boys & Girls Club of Napa, Napa High School and St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.

After determining the boundaries of the target area, Medine said, leadership academy members interviewed the neighborhood’s community leaders, business owners, school administrators and others to determine what new services would best serve the community’s children.

The process converged at Wednesday’s meeting.

The next step, Medine said, is hammering out new community programs and acquiring the funding to keep them going. The S.H. Cowell Foundation, a San Francisco-based organization and a possible funder for the McPherson Neighborhood Initiative, will visit the school on Jan. 24, Medine said, adding that carrying out the goals of the McPherson Neighborhood Initiative will also require continual financial support from government grants and local foundations.

“The real work has to be done at the elementary school level and schools need the resources to make this happen. … We want (students) to have a future of choice,” said Medine.

(Register Staff Writer Jillian Jones contributed to this report.)