Giving A Voice To Youth In The Community

. December 31, 2018.
Local youth met with County Commissioners to discuss the formation of a County Youth Commission.
Photo courtesy of MD Bagel Fragel

Elijah Hatcher-Kay, 14, confesses to being fascinated with politics. The eighth grader from Forsythe Middle School is one of several teens working with Washtenaw County’s Commissioners to establish a youth commission to allow young voices to be heard.

Washtenaw County Commissioner Jason Morgan has been working with Lori Roddy, executive director of the Neutral Zone, to turn the idea of a youth commission into a reality.

Task force leads to formation of youth commission

“My hope in creating a youth commission is that we will amplify the voices of young people, empowering them to be engaged citizens and activists in our community,” Morgan said. “Through the inclusion of youth voices, our decision-making and community leadership will be improved, which will mean better outcomes for Washtenaw County residents.”

Lori Roddy, executive director of The Neutral Zone, agrees. “We are fortunate to work in a county where commissioners want to create more roles for youth to participate in their local government. This project has the potential to build a structure in our government that values youth voices and provides an authentic role for their voices to have impact,” she said.

In 2017, a task force was formed that included individuals from the Neutral Zone, Corner Health, UM School of Social Work and the County Commission to begin the formation of a youth commission. Exploring governance structure models while also being mindful of budget concerns and the youth selection process, youth representatives were chosen from over fifty applicants. Twenty young people were chosen to ensure a diversity of thought, opinions and experiences, with geographic representation from all districts.

“The creation of a youth commission for Washtenaw County is important because young people have a meaningful voice and high stakes in the decisions that are being made in our community,” Morgan said.

Concerns of youth deserve to be heard

Megan Wilson, 14, is eager to add her voice to the conversation. “I feel that creating a Youth Commission is important because it gives us the opportunity to state our opinions in a non-judgmental group,” Wilson, a Belleville High School ninth grader said. “I’m interested in participating because it’s a new adventure and I love to go outside of the box and try new things.”

Wilson and her peers were recently given the opportunity to meet with County Commissioners at the Neutral Zone to share their ideas, concerns and goals. This brainstorming session gave the Commissioners some insight into the mindset of local youth.

For Elijah Hatcher-Key, the issues are myriad. “I want to learn all I can about how our county works while standing up for the best interests of young people when it comes to real issues like mental health funding, education, hunger, equality, human rights, and access to medical care,” he said. “Issues like school safety, the environment, and poverty and homelessness impact Washtenaw youth directly, so we have a perspective on them and a stake in addressing them,” he added.

Morgan is proud of the work being done by this task force. “We have incredibly passionate, bright and engaged young people from across the county coming together in a collaborative way to learn about each other and about our county.”