The YEF Council has benefited for the last 20 years of having youth voices as an integral part of the conversation and action-focused solutions. Local leaders should amplify youth voices, especially now in 2021, because there are young voices that are passionate about civic engagement and want to have an impact in their community but lack the support of their local government. City-led youth councils and youth commissions are great platforms to support youth engagement and authentically include youth voice.
In addition to youth councils and commissions, many cities also host high school internship programs in a variety of city departments. Youth employment programs have been shown to improve financial practices and financial health outcomes for the adult workforce of the future.
The City of Austin and City of Brighton’s initiatives promote youth engagement within the city, offers local youth work experience, and explore different career fields. As an example, 2021 YEF Council youth member Avinash Verma interned with the City of Austin’s Department of Aviation, where he had a fantastic experience working at the airport and getting an insight into the field of aviation.
Another YEF Council youth member, Giana Rocha interned with the City of Brighton’s Chamber of Commerce and Streets and Fleet department. Working with the Streets and Fleet department amplified her voice, and by extension, other youth residents’ voices, in discussions regarding the community’s infrastructure. It’s an experience that not only made her more comfortable to use her voice but furthered her drive to stay involved with the City.
Responding to the ongoing health pandemic includes thinking in the now and sustaining the rebuild in the future. Youth programs integrating youth into civic engagement are essential in prioritizing youth voices in diverse municipal departments and changing the narrative of where the youth voice belongs.
The YEF Council is comprised of elected officials, partner organizations and is the only council at the National League of Cities that also has youth representatives. NLC takes an authentic youth engagement approach to treat youth as valuable partners, supporting them in taking on meaningful roles in addressing important issues. More specifically:
- YEF Council youth representatives gain valuable experiences in leadership, act as conduits to bring innovative solutions to their cities and share their invaluable perspectives to help elected officials implement holistic strategies to address barriers in their communities.
- The YEF Council offers youth opportunities to amplify their voices on a national level.
- It provides youth members the opportunity to network with other passionate youth and elected officials, encourages exploration of topics and solutions impacting youth and families, the advancement of critical thinking, collaboration and change-making skills.
As policymakers, it is important to identify how issues you are discussing are affecting the youth in your community and how your city can better support your young people. As time progresses, including youth voice will become more of a top priority as cities see the long-term positive impact for all generations. Youth residents are an extension of cities, they engage peers, their families, and other adults in their life. Authentically weaving youth voice into city work only deepens the opportunity for impactful and sustainable municipal policy solutions.