Lake Oswego's Youth Leadership Council looks to the future
It's only been about eight months since Lake Oswego's Youth Leadership Council called its first meeting to order, but the group of 10 young Lake Oswegans has already set an ambitious series of goals and is now embarking on the process of selecting new members.
The councilors have also made their presence known in the community by participating in a host of events. They helped out with the Christmas tree lighting ceremony, directed traffic and moved materials at the community's Shred Day and Clean-Up Day, and they have volunteered at the Lake Oswego Farmers Market.
The students have also talked with City officials, including City Manager Scott Lazenby, Assistant City Manager Megan Phalen and Lake Oswego Police Chief Don Johnson, and some of the members have attended City Council meetings and discussions about budgets and transportation.
"They've gotten a good idea of how the public process works, how policymaking works, and the different challenges that the actual City Council faces in advancing different goals forward," City Councilor Joe Buck says. "So I think it's been a good learning experience."
Eight of the council's current members will be continuing, but the end of the school year marks the departure of council members Rhys Richmond and Isabelle Cullen, both of whom graduated from high school this month.
"It's been a blessing to serve on this council," Cullen says. "Youth Leadership Council has been a highlight of my senior year. I really enjoy working with such wonderful, bright, and passionate people to create such impactful projects."
At their latest meeting last week, the councilors voted on who would replace Cullen and Richmond as the group's co-chairs. Annie Choo was elected as the new chair, with Sebastian Martin-Quiros and Brooke Baker becoming vice-chairs. The group then began evaluating applications to select two new members (plus one alternate) from a pool of 13 applicants.
The Youth Council's first round of participants were selected by City Councilors Buck and Jackie Manz, along with City Sustainability and Management Analyst Jenny Slepian. But from now on, the councilors will be responsible for evaluating applicants and selecting their own membership.
Slepian urged the group to consider what each applicant could bring to the council, and how they would fit into the organization. "You have a personality now, as a council," she told the group last week. "Will (a given applicant) fit in with that?"
Buck and Slepian have helped guide the council and served as liaisons with the City, but it was the youth councilors themselves who were tasked with developing the group's constitution and bylaws and choosing advocacy and action areas.
"We didn't really tell them what they were going to be, so the job of the first Youth Council was to figure that out," Slepian says.
The Happy Valley Youth Council served as a model for Buck and other City officials when they were developing Lake Oswego's version last year. Lake Oswego's youth councilors also found inspiration in their metro-area neighbors, choosing to revise their initial leadership structure after a meeting with the Happy Valley group.
"They've helped give us some good direction and input for our council," Cullen says.
Now, council members are developing plans for several of their own events later this year and in 2018. At the top of the list is "LO Speaks," which Cullen describes as a TEDTalks-style event that the group hopes to host next February. The event is envisioned as having a mix of adult and youth speakers, and would tie into the theme of next year's LO Reads program.
"Our goal is to provide youth in the community with an opportunity to give a presentation on something 'untold,' whether it's a story, an experience of thiers, or a viewpoint, to ultimately educate those in the audience," Cullen says.
Another big project is a Mental Health Awareness Day, which the council hopes to hold in the fall as part of a broader campaign to raise awareness among teens about struggles with mental health issues. The group is also working on fundraising efforts to send some of its members to
next year's national League of Cities conference in Washington, D.C., which includes a Youth Council component.
In the nearer-term, the council is working to coordinate and host a Clackamas County Youth Council Day sometime this summer, where all the youth councils from around the county can gather and exchange ideas.
As the council looks forward to the coming months, Buck says he and Slepian are pushing the group to directly address some of the biggest issues facing Lake Oswego in order to serve as a voice for youth in the city.
That effort began at the most recent meeting with a discussion about operating rules for Airbnb and other short-term rentals, which is currently a subject of discussion on the City Council. Buck says he hopes to follow up that discussion with a look at affordable housing, another issue that has made its way to the forefront of the council agenda this year.
"With affordable housing, this is a long-term issue where it would be important to hear not just what the current adult population thinks of it, but these younger people too," Buck says. "How do they want Lake Oswego to be setting policies now that will impact Lake Oswego 10 or 20 years down the road?"