Youth Leaders

I’m rethinking that African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child”. After last week, I think it may need to be reworded as, “It takes a child to raise a village”.

Of course the youth I met last week weren’t exactly children. They were leaders from Mayors’ Youth Councils and high schools across Niagara who were brought together to take part in “Talk, Teach, Take Action”,  a symposium for young leaders organized by the Business and Education Council.

The unique forum was designed to connect youth leaders in Niagara with local elected officials.

The politicians offered up some sage leadership advice that I wish I had heard when I was their age. However, anyone there who took the time to listen, would have been equally impressed, if not more so, by what the youth had to say.

Pelham’s Mayor Dave Augustyn, advised youth leaders not to wear a mask but to be their authentic selves. He also suggested it was important to build a career not only on one’s talents but also on one’s passions. He himself started out studying physics because he was good at it but ended up majoring in political science – his passion. The importance of having, and staying focused on a vision and goals was also stressed, as was the importance of giving back to one’s community. 

Mayor Damian Goulbourne provided some excellent advice when he suggested that politicians should open up their youth councils to all those who are interested, provide them with a framework, a budget and support, and then basically step aside.

In other sessions throughout the day, these youth leaders also spoke perceptively about ethics and values, the importance of being kind to one another, not gossiping, listening, keeping your promises, sharing the leadership to empower others, accepting that others are different – not wrong, and about the importance of quiet leaders.

But perhaps most impressive was how much these kids knew about important issues, and how much they really cared about one another, their schools, their communities, and disadvantaged third world countries. Their energy and their passion were palpable.

While their top issue was the environment and global warming, a close second was the need to motivate and empower youth to get involved and to learn they can make a difference by using their voice. They also talked about the need to teach youth to be more compassionate.

They were remarkably well-informed about issues that matter. When asked about issues there were passionate about, the youth leaders talked about the need for social justice, reducing rural development, increasing physical activity and involvement in the arts, improving childcare, preserving historical sites, bullying, seniors, fishing poachers, sustainable development, finding a cure for AIDs, encouraging healthier food choices, providing leadership training opportunities, and reducing the use of drugs and alcohol.

Most importantly, these young leaders aren’t just talking, they’re taking action with the resourcefulness and creativity that only youth can bring to an initiative.

By way of example, these youth are writing appreciation letters to Canadian soldiers, distributing “Cookies for Courage” to local police officers, paramedics, and firefighters, participating in Cancer’s Relay for Life, fundraising for United Way and AIDS in Africa,  lobbying to save a municipal pool from closing, and promoting “Mullets for Cancer”.

Along the way, they’re also reducing isolation among youth by building a sense of community and connectedness within their own schools with such fun social activities as Wacky Wednesdays, Battle of the Bands, a Kraft Dinner Domino Derby, classroom decorating contests, and the Banana Awards for students who don’t typically get awards.

When politicians asked what they can do to tap the wisdom, energy, and creativity of youth, they were told they should visit schools, attend youth organized events, support activities to involve youth, and show appreciation by recognizing and celebrating the youth who are doing great things. This, they suggested, would reduce intimidation and help kids understand that politicians are good people who really do care.

It was also agreed that more needs to be done to recognize that youth are a valuable asset within a community. Their opinions must be sought and valued.

One particular discussion these young and savvy leaders want to be part of is one that focuses on how to keep young people in Niagara. They recognize that if we don’t focus on innovation, creating jobs, and helping rural youth make connections, one of our greatest assets, our youth, will continue to leave just when we need them the most.

Posted on 04-24-07

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