Creating a youth council

Early in 2016, I wrote an arrticle about some ideas that I hoped that North Grenville Municipal Council would consider implementing for the good of all residents. One of these ideas recently came up again in a conversation with Councillor Jim Bertram who was very supportive of it. The idea in question was for the municipality to develop a Youth Council that would allow young people to contribute to decisions that are made in the municipality by our regular Council.

Last fall Councillor Bertram visited both local high schools, North Grenville District High School and St. Michael Catholic High School. On his visits, he talked about the role of municipal government and how it affects the daily lives of residents of North Grenville including the young people he was talking to. He spoke briefly with administration at both schools about the possibility of some students becoming part of a Youth Council.

While recently reading a book called “13 Ways To Kill Your Community” by Doug Griffiths, I noticed that  the author dedicated chapter three of the thirteen chapter book to the subject of “Don’t Engage Youth” as one of the thirteen ways. The author pointed out how youth (age 35 and under are considered youth by the author) should be disengaged to ensure the death of your community. He believes that sometimes communities don’t recognize that youth have an abundance of energy, creativity and passion without being jaded by bad experiences, failures and the negativity of others. He added that when chances for youth to contribute are limited or if residents talk negatively about youth, then they’re on the right track to ensure that the best and brightest young people look to leave and the future of your community will leave with them.

A Youth Council would be a great way to engage young people (let’s say 30 and under), show them that the community does believe that they have a lot to contribute and give them a way to directly impact the future of the municipality. People who are engaged and personally invested in something are much more likely to ensure that the ‘something’ becomes successful, no matter what age they are. Let’s allow our young people to use their imaginations, skills and their energy for something truly meaningful.

So how do we make this happen? Let’s for a moment consider filling this council with two students each from the two local high schools with the schools themselves deciding how the students get chosen. Then we add three other young people who could apply and be chosen by a committee. At that point, a youth mayor could be chosen by vote of the youth council itself which would mean six councillors and one mayor. The young people who make up the council could learn: how local government works, how to conduct meetings in a professional environment, how to work together to forward ideas, how to read formal reports and how to communicate effectively in a formal setting. The youth council could meet weekly, biweekly or monthly in the North Grenville Council chambers and discuss and vote on key council matters that might directly affect young people or that might impact the future of the municipality. From these meetings formal recommendations could be made that would be forwarded directly to regular council and be accepted the same as recommendations from other committees of council.

Quite often politicians make generalized statements about the importance of youth to their communities, regions, provinces and countries. For some of them, their actual support of youth begins and ends with those statements. This is a rare opportunity to truly make a profound effort to be inclusive and recognize that young people can play a vital role in not only our future, but also in our present. Tomorrow’s great ideas could be grown in our community today. Let’s give them some sunlight.

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