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Fife Youth Commission off and running

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The newly formed Fife Youth Commission is off and running as the new year begins, with the commission’s second meeting having been held on Jan. 14. From now on the commission will meet monthly on the second Wednesday of the month. The commission has room for nine members but one seat remains open. Fife City Council Member Bryan Yambe and commission advisor Kurt Reuter, who is also the city’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services Director, are working with Fife Schools to get the final seat filled.

The Fife Youth Commission was formed to serve as an advisory board to the Fife City Council, other city boards and commissions and city staff on issues affecting youth in the community. Its purpose is to encourage full and active participation in government by young people in the community and establish a forum for meaningful, open communication among the youth themselves, in addition to promoting and developing the youths’ leadership skills.

“What they find, through their work, to be priorities for youth they’ll take to council and we’ll work together to figure out how to do something about it,” Yambe said. “They’re an advisory board but will also help come up with solutions that we can work together on.”

“Council has a retreat coming up and as issues occur they will then send stuff back to the youth commission just like they do with the parks board, planning commission or anyone else,” Reuter said. “I’m hopeful that there will be times throughout the year when those things will pop up and (the council) will take that step to give it back to this group, put it on our agenda, work through it and provide feedback to council.”

Youth Commission members include: Kelly Phan, Isaac Gethers, Rayanna Wenning, Gavin Georgitsis, Rebecca Dickinson, Justin Moreno, Sieona Squally and Randi Bushnell.

First put forth by council member Yambe, establishing a Fife Youth Commission marks an exciting new era for the city to be more inclusive of its youth, as for the first time since incorporating in 1957 the city now has a way for the voice of youth to be heard when it comes to city government.

“The city was incorporated in 1957 and since then we haven’t had a place that youth have had a direct voice in government and advising government. They’ve never been given that direct opportunity,” Yambe said. “When I took office last year I was looking around and saying there wasn’t really a place that I felt youth could advise the council, give suggestions and be a part of government.”

Yambe said having youth visible in the workings of the city would encourage more youth to get involved because they see themselves represented in city government through the commission.

“If you don’t have people who look like you up there, you don’t always give input freely or feel comfortable. Having a youth advisory board could help encourage youth to participate in making decisions for the community,” he said.

Right now the commissioners are getting to know each other and going through initial steps in firmly establishing the commission – for example, setting goals, creating a mission statement and electing a chair and vice-chair, which is scheduled to happen next month.

“We want to get a couple meetings in so the kids can get a feel for the dynamics of the group and who could take on the leadership roles,” Reuter said. “This group will have to take a little time to develop their own identity and personality and how those dynamics play out amongst them. We’ll get there.”

The youth commission will be holding a retreat next month, where its members can get to know one another in a more casual environment and start lining up issues they’d like to address.

“Ultimately, we see them functioning like any other board or commission within the city,” Reuter said. “We’ve talked about developing an annual work program similar to all the other (Fife) boards and commissions and perhaps having one defining event or activity for them each year… like a youth recognition week. We’re going to work that out as we go along and that will be a big focus of our February retreat to put together that annual program and talk about some specifics and details of what they want to do. Once we settle in, they’ll lead the discussion. They will take the reins to move things forward and staff will be there in a supportive role.”

At the Jan. 14 meeting, Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Combs addressed the commission on Washington State’s Open Public Meetings Act and public disclosure request law so that they fully understand how transparency in government works and to impress on the young commissioners the gravity and seriousness of their position in Fife city government.

Like her fellow commissioners, Rebecca Dickson applied after hearing at school that the Youth Commission was seeking members. “I was interested, but was unsure whether I would be able to make the time commitment required as I am very involved in academics as well as extracurricular activities,” she said. “After discussing my schedule with my family, I decided that if I could manage my schedule, I should apply.”

Dickson said that after she was chosen and met the other commissioners, she came to the realization that the Fife Youth Commission can make a significant change in the community – for the better. “With the guidance of the city, as well as asking the community for their ideas, we will advise the Fife City Council to create new programs as well as improve ones the city already has in place for youth in the community.”

As the city ordinance establishing the commission specifically requires that one commissioner may be a member of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Fife High School junior Sieona Squally fills that requirement. Already involved in the Native American Youth Leadership Academy, sponsored by the Western Washington Native American Education Consortium, Squally makes a perfect fit on the commission. “I hope it brings more youth to be interested in getting involved in more things,” she said.

Randi Bushnell said she got involved as a way to help bring more visibility to youth in Fife. As she put it, “To make Fife youth more comfortable and more prominent in the Fife community – to give them a voice.”

Reuter said both the youth and Fife as a whole will benefit from the Youth Commission, and this will reveal itself as the commission gets it feet firmly planted.

“There’s a huge mutual opportunity here – not just for these kids but for our community to learn more about who they are and what they do.”

Yambe agrees. “This encourages them to feel like this is a place that nurtures and helps all ages…that what you do matters even if you’re a kid. Hopefully along the way we can help teach some different ways of thinking and leadership skills and give them the understanding of how government works.”