This article appeared in the November 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Throughout the state, city leaders are beginning to see their younger residents as a resource for community problem-solving, which has sparked an interest and investment in forming youth councils. These councils work with elected officials, staff and other community leaders to tackle important issues. Through this process, student delegates are also discovering that their voice, views and talents matter to their city leaders and to the betterment of their communities.
Youth councils also assist cities in saving money, generating revenue, and increasing support for city initiatives.
While the main focus and goal of these youth programs is similar, the structure of the programs differs greatly. The youngest youth council in Georgia is in Tybee Island, where members are sixth graders, while other councils around Georgia target high school students. The councils range from 12 students to more than 80 students.
The application and selection process varies by program. The Dublin Youth Council coordinates position races complete with campaign materials and speeches in front of the entire student body. Other councils rely on direct recommendations from teachers and school staff and then conduct one-on-one interviews to make their selection from these recommendations.
For the past three years, GMA has offered a Youth Delegate program during the Mayors’ Day Conference held in January. During this program, youth groups attend legislative policy sessions with elected officials and participate in leadership sessions that are facilitated by municipal and state leaders. For many youth delegates, the highlight of Mayors’ Day is attending the conference’s Capitol Connection: Legislative Networking Breakfast, where they are able to meet state leaders including Gov. Nathan Deal.
The councils also visit the Georgia State Capitol each year during the legislative session and the National League of Cities’ Youth Delegate Conference.
This month, Georgia’s Cities
highlights several youth councils. For more information, visit the Advice and Knowledge section at www.gmanet.com to view “Preparing Tomorrow’s Leaders Today: A Guide to Creating Youth Councils.”
Columbus Youth Advisory Council
The Columbus Youth Advisory Council spearheaded the construction of the Jonathan Hatcher Skateboard Park.
Formed 17 years ago, the Columbus Youth Advisory Council is made up of 84 sixth to 12th
grade students. Since inception, over 1,400 students have completed this program. The program is sponsored by both the Columbus Consolidated Government and the Muscogee County School District. The council’s mission is to broaden the scope of youth leadership in Columbus through volunteerism, service and initiatives that create positive solutions.
Over the years, the council was responsible for the construction and opening of Columbus’ first Skateboard Park, which cost more than $900,000. The park, Jonathan Hatcher Skateboard Park, was named in memory of the second council president.
The Columbus Youth Advisory Council also serves as an asset for the Muscogee County School District from approving the current dress code to testing food products for the district’s lunch program. They also conduct televised talk shows, community forums, annual service projects and a #Hashtag Lunch Bag program.
During the holiday season, the students host their signature program where they deliver a Santa Caravan (METRA Trolley) full of gifts to families. These families are selected from letters sent to the local newspaper.
Savannah Youth Council
Members of the Savannah Youth Council participate in GMA’s annual Mayors’ Christmas Motorcade.
The Savannah Youth Council (SYC) serves up to 35 eighth grade students a year. For 13 years SYC has provided local youth with the experience of working with city government while obtaining a sense of civic responsibility. The council also promotes and recognizes the accomplishments and contributions of the youth to the city. Each year the council participates in a swearing-in ceremony, graduation parade, the annual GMA’s Mayors’ Christmas Motorcade and a canned food drive.
In 2016, Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach launched the Summer 500 Program with the goal of connecting area youth with local paid internships. Recognizing a need for more youth summer engagement and employment opportunities, Summer 500 is an innovative intern-matching program coordinated by Savannah. It is an eight-week program which focuses on increasing internship, apprenticeship and mentorship opportunities for the youth in our community.
In the two years since the program launched, Summer 500 has successfully placed over 500 students in local paid internships. The business community has shown great support for the program, contributing private funding for the internships since its inception.
Macon-Bibb Georgia Civic Awareness Program for Students (GCAPS)
The Macon-Bibb Georgia Civic Awareness Program for Students (GCAPS)
Macon-Bibb County begins each year with an online application and interview process, which narrows the more than 100 applicants to a recommended slate of 25 to 30 students. Macon-Bibb GCAPS helps to collect and deliver gifts for the GMA Mayors’ Christmas Motorcade each year and travel to Central State Hospital in Milledgeville to deliver gifts and monetary donations.
Youth commissioners also assist with the Annual Cherry Blossom Festival and hosts other youth leaders from across the state to experience this annual event. In January, Macon-Bibb GCAPS partnered with the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission to recycle over 3,000 Christmas trees.
Each year, the council also supports the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission’s Annual Community Breakfast. Not only do the students serve the meals, but they are involved in the table discussions. With these projects, students get to see their lessons in action and the impact that they can make in their community.
Collaborating with other youth leadership groups is also paramount to the Macon-Bibb County calendar. In the fall of each year, Macon-Bibb GCAPS hosts a Youth Leadership Summit at various locations throughout their community.
This year, Macon-Bibb County sent a delegation of 20 to the 2017 Japan-America Grassroots Summit (JAGS) in Nara, Japan. Nara, the ancient capital city of Japan, treasures its people alongside its traditional architecture including Buddhist statues, temples, and shrines. Unebi High School hosted the delegation, who later joined their sister city program with Kurobe City in Toyama after the Summit.
In addition to traveling to Japan, Macon-Bibb GCAPS commissioners were also ambassadors in the Sneakers Transatlantic Student Exchange. Three youth commissioners were selected to represent TEAM USA. The exchange focused on Human Rights and included week stays in Atlanta, New York City, Tübingen and Berlin, Germany.
Valdosta Youth Council
The Valdosta Youth Council builds civically engaged leaders.
Just two years old, The Valdosta Youth Council (VYC), prepares seventh-ninth grade students for leadership and civic opportunities. Participants are selected based on academics, involvement in school and community organizations, leadership potential and a written recommendation from a school administrator.
The 2017-2018 VYC members are following an immensely successful 2016-2017 program year, which included several substantial accomplishments including the completion of 112 community service hours and a Teen Talk show on Metro 17 to discuss various issues.
The council also participates in the Valdosta Christmas Tree Lighting event, the Azalea Festival, Electronic Recycling event, Valdosta’s Dumpster Art Project and other city-sponsored events. VYC culminated their anti-bullying campaign by partnering with John Maxwell Certified Speaker Lynne Brown to host the Valdosta Youth Explosion event in May. Here, approximately 80 youth representing six local city and county schools were united in their stand against bullying. The students were inspired by two John Maxwell speakers and each signed an Anti-Bullying Proclamation, which now hangs in Valdosta City Hall.
The VYC is guided by a VYC Advisory Board appointed by Mayor John Gayle, who serves as the head of the board.
“I look forward to working alongside these young leaders throughout the school year, hearing their concerns and suggestions, and witnessing the impact they will have on their peers and within our community,” said Mayor John Gayle.
Tybee Island Youth Council
The Valdosta Youth Council builds civically engaged leaders.
The mission of Tybee Island Youth Council is to promote and receive input from the youth in the community to develop and sustain programs and activities for the youth and to provide a vehicle to learn about government, participate in the process and to represent the needs of the youth in the community. Students in the fifth and sixth make up the council.
The youth volunteer in a variety of ways including service to the United States Coast Guard. The council voted to adopt the Coast Guard Station Tybee as their service project for 2017-2018. This initiative will provide an energetic support group to the numerous “Coasties” who do not have families in the area. The council also presented Certificates of Appreciation to not only Coast Guard Station Tybee but also to the other five Coast Guard Units stationed in Chatham County. In an effort to reach out to the Coasties and learn more about their role in the community, they visited Coast Guard Station Tybee and toured the facility. While there, they prepared food and served lunch to show their appreciation for the work they do for the Community. To further show their appreciation, the council sponsored the first annual Family Fun Day and Picnic in 2017 where they invited the six Coast Guard Units, their families and the community.
During the year, the Youth Council plans to work with the Coast Guard Station Tybee in honoring the Sailor of the Quarter, coordinating floats for parades, holiday activities and giving them a sense of family away from home.
Dublin Youth Commission
The Dublin City Youth Council assists with the city’s National Night Out, which raises awareness for community policing.
The Dublin City Youth Council increases the civic involvement and awareness among Dublin’s youth. The council was formed in 2016. The student delegates observed Citizenship Day by holding a weeklong voter registration drive. The youth also spoke with high school seniors and registered eligible students during the week.
The Dublin City Youth Council also serves the community by preparing backpacks for back to school events, improving signage to keep bikers safe and assisting with the designs of the new municipal pool.
In the wake of recent natural disasters, Dublin City Youth Council and Dublin-Laurens County Teen Court volunteered with a Red Cross Shelter site. The teens provided hugs, smiles and fun for the young evacuees fleeing Hurricane Irma.
In addition to the youth council, the community benefits from the Dublin-Laurens County Teen Court. Created in 1996, the teen court is a juvenile diversion program for first-time offenders who have committed misdemeanor offenses, recognized the error of their ways and want a second chance. Teen offenders have the option of appearing before a court of their peers. A municipal court judge presides, but attorneys, bailiffs, court reporters and the jury are teens that have volunteered to serve—many of them after going through the process themselves.
Once the youth offender completes their teen court requirements, their record is expunged. This saves parents’ an increase in car insurance for speeding teens and betters teens’ future employment chances.