Two groups strive to engage youth, expand

Oct. 01, 2013 @ 04:59 AM

Two local and youth-driven organizations — one newly formed and the other long standing — intend to increase civic engagement among their members' peers.

The Sanford/Lee County Youth Council, which began as a joint county-city venture in late 2007, is working toward gaining new members interested in local government and civic education, while members of the Lee County Young Commissioner Leadership Program is looking to expand its two-week summer program into a year-long undertaking. Both organizations will meet in the coming month.

More than 20 students attended the Youth Council meeting in September, but there are only three students on the organization's member roster, according to Karen Kennedy, Sanford/Lee County Community Development Manager who is one of the two advisers for the organization.

"Membership has been up and down, and this is a rebuilding year for us," she said. "We want to teach them about government departments and function, and also help them gain knowledge and skills like public speaking and leadership."

More members are expected to officially join, Kennedy said, and the program is open to all Lee County students in grades nine-12.

Youth Council has raised funds to provide every Lee County first grader with a book and held annual Race to Read 5Ks in the past two years, she said.   

"It's truly about civic education," Kennedy said. "We want them to understand government and be active in the community they live in."

The Sanford/Lee County Youth Council's next meeting is at 4 p.m. Oct. 14 in the West End Conference Room at the Sanford Municipal Center, located at 224 E. Weatherspoon St.

A dozen Lee County students completed the Lee County Young Commissioner Leadership Program this past summer and, at the conclusion of their two-week program, the group wanted to continue, according to program facilitator Bill Stone, the 4-H Youth Development Agent for the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Lee County.

"We are planning to have our first meeting in the next month," he said. "That's when they will be deciding what the structure of the group will look like moving forward."

The students may meet quarterly, Stone said, and identify issues facing young people in the community and discover how they can help.

The current young commissioners may serve as mentors during next year's commissioner program, Stone said, adding that they could also form an alumni base.

"We have actually discussed [a] partnership with the Youth Council and see ... how we can work together," Stone said.

Until the organization's foundation is formalized, the Young Commissioners are not accepting new members, he said.