Georgia Communities Value their Youth Councils

November 12, 2018

This article appeared in the November 2018 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Hampton High School students and members of the Hampton Youth Council volunteered alongside 200 with registration, venue management, customer service and vendor setup at JapanFest.

T hroughout the state, city lead­ers are beginning to see their younger residents as a resource for community problem-solving and service. In many of these cities, youth councils are form­ing and working with commu­nity leaders to tackle important issues, while discovering that their voices matter to their city leaders. Those who encourage youth participation see benefits including budget savings and revenue generation; increased support for city initiatives and improved policies and youth programing. Members of these various councils have been busy this school year making a differ­ence in their communities.
In mid-September, students from the Hampton Youth Coun­cil experienced excitement and service during the annual Ja­panFest hosted in the city of Du­luth at the Infinite Energy Cen­ter. Thirty-six students along with chaperones represented Hampton High at the festival, which featured a combination of modern and traditional Japa­nese culture. Exhibits included the latest in Japanese technology, cuisine and en­tertainment.
“Seeing people like me demonstrate Japanese culture along with their Japanese counterparts was inspiring when thinking of the future growth of both societies,” said Hampton High Senior Hunter Harper and member of the inaugural Hampton Youth Council.
Harper’s class- and councilmate Ivan Olvera also shared that, “From the traditional foods, all the way to the development of anime, we were able to fully immerse ourselves in a culture different from our own. This not only widened my international pal­ate, but it also allowed me to expand my ability to try and see new things.”
The city of LaGrange inducted 24 students into its youth council in September. The LaGrange Youth Council serves as an advisory board, providing ad­vice and counsel to the city council—giving local youth a more formal role in the local decision-mak­ing process and offering real-world experiences with elected bodies.
In Chatham County, there are three separate councils. Savannah manages the program for mid­dle school students, Chatham County manages the program for high school students and the city of Ty­bee Island manages a program for their elementary school students.
The 37 students of the 2018 Chatham Youth Commission were sworn into office in September and took several summer tours to learn about different areas of city and county government. They also toured the Savannah College of Art and Design, the Chatham County Police Department and Sheriff’s Office, Memorial Health Hospital and the Chatham Area Transit, and attended a Chatham County Commission and Savannah City Council Meeting to experience lo­cal government decision making in action.
The Chatham County Youth Commission was started in 1992 and since has graduated more than 600 students.
Now in its fifth year, the Su­wanee Youth Leaders program (SYL) was created to develop a genuine connection with schools and find a way to encourage youth involvement as prescribed in Su­wanee’s strategic plan.
SYL recently won a Southeast Festivals and Events Association Bronze Kaleidoscope Award for Most Creative Idea for collabora­tion with Suwanee Fest. SYL also won an Atlanta Regional Commission 2016 CREATE Community Award in the category of Educational Excellence.
Katie Reynolds, former Suwanee youth leader shared the power of her experience, “Suwanee Youth Leaders was by far one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. The sense of community that formed between all the members of SYL was incredible. We were all working for similar goals that sprouted out of a similar love for the city we live in.”

Those interested in learning more about youth councils should read GMA’s detailed publication, Preparing Tomorrow's Leaders Today: A Guide to Creating Youth Councils.

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