Farmington teenagers who think no one in power listens to them, take heart. You have a pipeline to city officials through the Mayor’s Youth Council.
The Council is comprised of 12 Farmington High School students who meet regularly with the city mayor to discuss issues that affect teenagers. The group is charged with exploring the views of their peers and bringing teens’ concerns to city officials.
“We want to keep the youth involved in the city,” said Schuyler Semar, council president. “We want to make sure they know what’s going on. Sometimes, a kid’s point of view makes a difference in city decisions.”
Mayor Charles Rorex welcomes the input.
“They can benefit us by giving us input and by conversing with other teens and parents in the community,” Rorex said. “Our goal is to involve them in as many city activities as possible to utilize youth input.”
The Youth Council began in September when AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer Branson Merrill proposed the project to Farmington Mayor Charles Rorex. Merrill, who is based with University of Missouri Extension in the St. Francois County Courthouse, researched similar programs across the country before drafting the Farmington proposal.
“Our goal is for the teens to provide input to the mayor so that he can make more informed decisions,” Merrill said. “They also are available to the City Council as an advisory group.”
Rorex asked Dr. David Waters, principal of Farmington High School to choose three students from each grade to be on the council. Interested students were to fill out an application and attend a group interview.
Students are expected to conduct themselves as positive role models, participate actively in the Youth Council, and meet a code of conduct that includes obeying the law and school rules. Students who do not meet those criteria must step down from the council.
Ideally, members will remain in their positions throughout their high school years, Merrill said.
Members of the council are: Seniors Jaimee Fajkowski, Andrew Engler, Schuyler Semar; juniors Brad Green, Brenna Noble, Eric Schweiss; sophomores Whitney Byington, Danielle DuMontier, Jessica Standfuss; and freshmen Kelsey DeVault, Parks Peterson, Danielle West. Merrill facilitates the group along with 4-H Youth Specialist Lynna Lawson and Shelley Bush, the county program director for University of Missouri Extension in St. Francois County.
The group meets on Fridays during weeks of the high school’s “black” block schedule. The group has elected officers and identified some issues of concern. The top issue they would like to address is substance abuse. Suggestions they would like to make include increased locker checks for drugs at school, and more police working to reduce drug use.
“We have spoken with Officer Weekly about getting a tips phone line to him so kids can let him know about drugs in school,” Whitney Byington said.
Rorex said that the Mayors Youth Council will be involved in anticipated projects such as a new fire station and a new library.
“What are some of the things they think we need to do to promote this city or to provide for the future of Farmington as it grows?” Rorex said he will ask the teenagers. “Until you ask them, you don’t know what good ideas they may have.”
If at some time the city seeks a bond issue, the mayor would ask the youth to help elicit feedback from the community and help with passage of the bond.
According to Merrill, there are more than 2,600 residents under the age of 18 in the City of Farmington, which is approximately 19 percent of the city’s population. That number increases to 4,741 when one looks at the population located within the 63640 zip code area.
In order to better reflect the views of young people, the Mayors Youth Council is asked to organize youth forums where other teenagers are invited to share their concerns with local officials and to survey other youth to identify issues that need to be addressed or are deemed important by teenagers.
Some informal discussions already have taken place, Youth Council Vice President Brad Green said.
“We’re trying to ask students in our classes how to better school and the community,” he explained. “Some of them are a little stubborn, but a lot of them like the idea of making a change in the community.”
Other goals of the Council include organizing voting drives to get voters to the polls and coordinating city-wide service projects for Farmington’s youth.
The Farmington youth can draw ideas from similar groups across the country. In Baton Rouge, La., for example, the mayor’s youth advisory group holds an annual Youth Power Rally, participates in community cleanup efforts, and repairs the homes of disadvantaged elderly residents. In Boston, the mayor invites the police commissioner and school superintendent to be part of his meetings with the teen group so they can immediately address issues of concern.
Governor Bob Holden formed a similar group – his Youth Cabinet – whose members work directly with Missouri department directors and other state decision makers.
So far, the Farmington youth have participated in one City Council meeting, where they opened the session with prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. Although the group is still in the development stages, participants are enthusiastic about their new opportunities.
“I like being on it because I’m really interested in politics,” said Jessica Standfuss, adding that she plans to become an entrepreneur and help political campaigns as a hobby. “I get an inside view of what’s going on in Farmington.”