Pittsfield Youth Commission Brings Teens Into Local Government

By Joe DurwinPittsfield Correspondent
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Members of the new Youth Commission were confirmed by the City Council on Tuesday.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday approved appointments by Mayor Daniel Bianchi for one of the largest bodies in local government: the Pittsfield Youth Commission.  
The reactivation of the dormant advisory committee has been hailed as a much-needed opportunity to give local youth a voice in their community and local government.
"We know how important our youth are to this community, but we also realize how little influence they have on the things that happen for them," said newly appointed adult member Ty Allen Jackson, local businessman and youth literacy advocate. "I think that this is essential, to not only give them a voice, but also to give them power, and to realize how important they are, and what they mean to this community, and the future of this community."
The Pittsfield Youth Commission will act in a manner similar to other advisory public boards and committees, but with more teenagers.  
This 25-member commission (including four non-voting members) will meet regularly to address youth related issues and provide direct input from local youth to city government on a range of concerns, in keeping with guidelines set forth for it in both the city code and state law.
"My business partner Eddie Taylor always says that when it comes to doing things for the youth in our community, the place that we never go to consult is the youth of our community," Jackson told iBerkshires. "So I think that it's really important to give them the power to make some decisions."
"I am very eager to hear from our young people what they would like to see happening in our community and ways we could help to bring some ideas to fruition," said newly appointed adult member Mary Talmi, whose involvement with local youth spans a dozen years with the Rock On Young Musicians Workshops.
Due to significant response to the city's call for youth commissioners, the new appointments completely fill the maximum under state law of twenty-one voting members. This includes 14 youth (12-18) members: Merudjina Normil, Bailey Prescott, Richard Garwood, Emma Foley, Matthew Barry, Louis Higuera, Reilly Lee, Belinda Boateng, Guachione, Austin White, Ajayi Jackson, Shaun Morgan, Gerardo Aguilar, Miriam Victoriano; and seven adults: Ty Allan Jackson, Kristine Hurley, Pastor Sholes-Ross, Manfred Slaughter, Mary Talmi, Benjamin Kline III, and Ramiro Guerrero. It also includes four additional non-voting adult members: Vincent Marinaro, Kevin Morandi, Karen Cole and Susan Lyman.
Youth members include students predominantly from the city's public high schools, along with a few middle school students as well as Pittsfield youth hailing from Miss Hall's and Berkshire Arts & Technology Public Charter School. 
"I volunteered to be on the Youth Commission because I love having an active role in my community," said Taconic freshman Austin White. "And I hope to bring ideas forward that will engage the youth in community activities, while actively learning their culture in a safe and fun environment for all."
 Adult member span a wide variety of community and youth leaders and directors of youth agencies.
"I personally am interested in  education opportunites and skills training for youth, college-preparedness programs, and connecting kids mentors in our business community," Talmi told iBerkshires. "But, I am mostly interested in youth having a voice and ways in which schools and law enforcement can hear what youth have to say in a supportive and problem solving environment."
Adult mentorship is seen as crucial to the success of the newly reactivated commission, which has been dormant more than it has been active in the two decades of its existence, and the youth commissioners can expect support both from its plentiful adult members as well as city hall staff.
Bianchi said Director of Administrative Services Julia Sabourin would play an active role in supporting the commission, "and I can envision other people from Community Development being involved as well."
Sabourin told iBerkshires that every attempt was made to ensure the widest possible net was cast in soliciting volunteers in order to create the most broadly representative group possible. This attracted over 40 applicants for the 21 slots, resulting in what is arguably the most demographically diverse public commission in current city government.
Though seats on the commission were more limited than the deluge of response from interested volunteers, none are being turned away, as the mayor says he is forming a Community Youth Coalition group he says will supplement the work of the public commission.
"I would love to get that group together to discuss ideas for the community, and feed input into the Youth Commission,"  Bianchi told iBerkshires.  
"I just want to make sure these kids stay engaged," Bianchi added. "It's a recognition of my appreciation for their willingness to be involved."
The coalition will consist of youth and adult volunteers not selected for the commission, and will meet with the commission three times a year as well as at a special  "end of the year celebration" already planned for June 11, 2015. 
Over time, more members may be added to the coalition as seen fit, while the commission members will have set terms of one-to-three year rotations on that body.
"The Youth Coalition is something that we have the ability to add and be more flexible as far as the numbers are concerned," said Bianchi. "From time to time, we'll put out the word and see if people want to be involved."
A public youth commission was first proposed in Pittsfield in 1973, but the concept died on the vine under opposition from prominent City Councilor Peter Arlos, before re-emerging in the early 1990s.
Bianchi first voiced the intention to re-establish the commission during his campaign for mayor in 2011, a need that was made even more apparent the following summer. The need for a re-established city Youth Commission was one of the major points identified by local young people at a Youth Summit held in response to a mass disturbance following a 3rd Thursday celebration in 2012. The effort gained momentum last year, in large part to research and analysis done by one local high school student, Kylie Mason, who served as an intern at City Hall last summer and has continued to champion the goal since
"Like a Red Cross blood drive, the blood of the young is needed to revive this community," said Lee resident Ellen Mary D'Agostino, speaking in support of the commission as a member of the public at Tuesday's council meeting. "The spirit of the young is truly our hope for the future of this community."


Tags: teenagers,   youth commission,   

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