Kennedale’s Youth Advisory Council Allows Teens to be a Part of Local GovernmentJan 21, 2017 12:00PM ● By Melanie Heisinger
L-R: Sydney Michener, Tiffany Pavey, Andrew Flanagan, Claudia Vilchez, Katie Randolph, Secretary, Lexi Neifert, Vice-Chair, Carson Ham, Chair, Haley Smith, Leanne Blind. Not Pictured: Luke Michener, Historian, Kendall Barnes, Leland Murphy
Leslie Galloway is a busy woman. She is Kennedale’s city secretary, where she coordinates local elections, facilitates the annual application process for advisory boards, and oversees the Kennedale Senior Citizen Center. She’s the city’s communications coordinator, handling their monthly newsletter, managing their social media accounts, maintaining the website, and designing print materials and reports. She’s also the staff liaison for the Youth Advisory Council. Oh, and she’s the mother of two kids.
She loves being a part of the Youth Advisory Council (YAC). The organization, according to its mission statement, “is a select group of young leaders who, through research, peer discussion, and community interaction, provide a youth perspective to City Council on a wide variety of community and youth-related issues.”
Serving as the staff liaison for YAC, Galloway facilitates the recruitment, application and appointment process each year, and attends meetings so that she can communicate between membership, City Council and staff. She says of the YAC, “I’m constantly impressed with the level of talent and commitment to serving their community that these teens possess.”
Galloway has been working with YAC since January of 2015 and eagerly anticipates each new group of high schoolers, though she admits it’s bittersweet when they graduate and move on. We asked her to tell us more about the program and the rewarding results.
Can you tell us about the Youth
Advisory Council program?
YAC is one of the City of Kennedale’s advisory boards (like the Planning & Zoning Commission or Keep Kennedale Beautiful), and its main purpose is to advise the council on youth-related issues and the perspective of teenage residents.
YAC identifies areas for improvement related to youth, including developing programs and services that empower, support and inform youth, that create a family-friendly community, and that enable and encourage youth to be productive members of their community.
They also complete an annual service project, plan and host community events like Trunk-or-Treat, and assist with other city-sponsored events throughout the year.
How did it get started?
In 2003, the Texas Municipal League (TML) began encouraging cities to develop youth leadership programs to provide municipalities with energetic volunteers for civic projects, give leadership a fresh perspective, and create a sense of accomplishment for local teens. Kennedale’s YAC was established in 2009 because our Council — particularly Mayor Brian Johnson and former Councilmember David Green — wanted to provide opportunities for the next generation of leaders to be active, informed and empowered in public service and in government.
Give an example of what YAC has done?
One of the very first projects that YAC consulted on was the replacement of four intersections with roundabouts several years ago. Members offered feedback to staff and council, created a video for the city’s website explaining the proper way to navigate roundabouts, and even designed the one nearest to Kennedale High School. YAC adopted their roundabout through Keep Kennedale Beautiful’s Adopt-a-Spot program, and members still keep the area free of litter today.
What else does it teach the kids?
YAC helps young leaders learn about how municipal government works, and makes them more able to get involved and make their voices heard, both now and in the future. I think it’s also great for them to see that twelve teenagers can come together and create a successful community event. I think our Chair Carson Ham summed it up well: “As a returning member of YAC, I am now more aware of the process and responsibilities of city government, and am still learning more. I enjoy being able to cast a vote in meetings as well as give my opinions on certain matters, and watch them grow into successful projects.”
What’s a typical meeting like at Youth Advisory Council?
Members show up in their work and sports uniforms, and we all sit around the conference room in City Hall. Chair Carson Ham calls the meeting to order, and they’ll discuss completed projects – what went well, what could be improved upon, and what they’ll never try again. Then decisions are made about upcoming events and projects, including filling volunteer openings and assigning tasks like calling food trucks or inviting local businesses to sponsor an event. During the meeting, the secretary takes notes, which are used to compile minutes afterwards. The meetings are conducted according to the City of Kennedale’s adopted parliamentary procedures, and all decisions must be made in the form of a “motion,” which then must be seconded and voted on. I’m sure it can feel a little bit ridiculous to “make a motion" that we show "Hotel Transylvania” at the next movie night, but hopefully it’s a good learning experience. Sometimes, the meeting is followed by a staff-led tour of one of the city facilities.
What’s expected of the kids who participate?
Each member is expected to come to our regular monthly meetings – currently scheduled for the first Wednesday of the month – and to take turns picking up trash at their adopted traffic circle. Outside of meetings, they plan, promote and volunteer at community events. Finally, each spring they each recommend at least two candidates for the next YAC application period, and invite them to apply.
What kind of training is involved or required?
YAC Summit is where we get our best training. Next spring, the 17th annual Summit will be in Abilene, and I’m so looking forward to going again. It’s so helpful to meet advisors and students from other youth programs in Texas, and see how they’re all benefitting their cities, and it’s the absolute best time to get to know my own YAC members and their personalities. Also, they have karaoke.
How many kids have been involved so far in Kennedale?
We’ve had about 60 students over the years.
Who is eligible for YAC?
All the kids are local, in high school, and they’re all skilled leaders – but that’s really where the similarities end. We have athletes, musicians, scholars, artists and actors, and they all use their unique talents to benefit their community. It’s an honor to work with them.
They must meet these qualifications:
- Between the ages of 15 and 19 and currently enrolled in school; and
- Reside within the corporate boundaries of the City of Kennedale; or
- Reside within the boundaries of the Kennedale Independent School District; or
- Attend a state-recognized school or homeschool within the corporate boundaries of the City of Kennedale
Applications must include two letters of recommendation and a short essay. Appointed members serve one-year terms from June 1 to May 31, and can apply to be reappointed each year until they graduate from high school. As with all city boards and commissions, YAC members are appointed by the City Council. YAC officers (chair, vice chair, secretary, historian) are appointed by membership.
What resources are required for the program to operate?
Each year, YAC is budgeted $3,000 to spend on events, supplies, t-shirts and their trip to YAC Summit. Any additional money comes from sponsorships or donations. We’re also very fortunate to have generous organizations and staff at the City of Kennedale. For example, our Police Captain, Darrell Hull, always lets YAC use his cotton candy machine for Trunk-or-Treat, and the Friends of the Library – Kennedale (FOLK) lets YAC use their popcorn machine for movie events.
Why is the Youth Advisory Council program so important?
The local level is where we can effect the most meaningful change, and by giving these students – who’ve already demonstrated an aptitude for leading – an inside look at how this lowest level of government works, it gives them a great foundation to go out and improve the communities they’ll call home in the future.
Has the program faced challenges?
Honestly, the biggest challenge is working around everyone’s schedules. These teens are the definition of over-achievers. They’re involved in every organization, sport and extracurricular program you can think of, in addition to part-time jobs and other volunteer obligations.
What do you like most about being involved with Youth Advisory Council?
YAC meetings are a highlight of my job. They’re always energetic and open to new ideas. YAC also regularly hosts community events like movie and food truck nights. Last year, I mentioned that a Trunk-or-Treat might be fun, and they latched onto it. YAC’s second-annual Truck-or-Treat was in October, and we had an estimated 2,000 in attendance (a lot for a city of 7,800). The first year, we planned the entire event, including food trucks, cotton candy and a craft fair at the Senior Citizen Center. This year, the library added their Pumpkin-Palooza, which offered pumpkin painting and a fall photo-op in the park. That’s another wonderful purpose that YAC serves: community synergy. Their love for Kennedale is contagious, because it’s where they grew up – their hometown. We all love our hometown.
How are you raising awareness of the Youth Advisory Council program and those it serves?
Most of the membership comes from Kennedale High School, but we’re focusing on expanding our reach to the students at Fellowship Academy – a private school in Kennedale – as well as area homeschooled students.
How can someone find out more about the Youth Advisory Council program?
If you know of someone in Kennedale ISD who would be a great fit for YAC, they can visit www.cityofkennedale.com/YAC to download an information packet or apply!