Anner Yep believes youth need to be heard in the corridors of power.
It’s why she and Noah Stong and other Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School students “jumped at the opportunity” to help create a new youth senate in Orillia.
“I want youth to be more engaged and more aware of the power of their voice,” Yep told city councillors during a presentation to council committee Monday.
She said a new youth senate would help youth play an active and critical role in “solving issues in a fair and effective fashion.”
She said the new body would “provide a safe space for youth of Orillia to voice their concerns, ask questions and tackle initiatives.”
Stong laid out the group’s mission.
“We are youth, for the youth,” said Stong. “We will discuss any and every matter brought forth to us from the youth or about the youth.
“We will represent the youth and encourage all youth (to become) actively engaged in arising issues and solutions,” he said.
Stong said the Sunshine Youth Senate aims to encourage leadership among youth, noting the group’s values include perseverance, community and creativity.
The duo said the goal of the senate is to assist the municipality with youth related issues, as well as help solve those issues.
“We are really excited to see this come together,” said Yep.
City councillors agreed. They gave a stamp of approval to the Sunshine Youth Senate to be formed. The decision has to be ratified at Monday night’s council meeting.
The creation of a youth senate has been several years in the making. It was an idea birthed by former Orillia Youth Opportunities Committee (OYOC) member Kevin Lehman and championed by, among others, former city councillor Jeff Clark.
Both were in the council chamber Monday to see the idea become reality. Lehman said he was “thrilled” to see the new youth senate take shape.
Current OYOC chair Hazel O’Brien lauded the pair during the presentation, noting it was Lehman’s “vision that put the wheels in motion” for this idea - an idea that was also passionately championed by the director of the Orillia Youth Centre, Kevin Gangloff.
If the decision is ratified as expected next week, plans will forge ahead for the new Sunshine Youth Senate.
The goal is to have it up and running for the 2019-2020 school year.
Stong said the senate will be comprised of 12 members: four will be elementary school students aged 13-14; eight will be secondary school students aged 14-19.
“We’re hoping to have secondary school students from all three high schools,” said Stong, noting there would would also be three elected executive positions: Chair, vice-chair and secretary.
There will also be some adult mentors, such as Gangloff. They will be non-voting members of the senate.
Yep said they would promote the new youth-led initiative primarily via social media channels, but they are considering visits to local schools to help spread the word.
They plan to have suggestion boxes at various physical locations and a virtual suggestion box to allow youths to have their say on the issues they tackle.
Among issues already identified are youth homelessness, access to Orillia’s public library to students from surrounding townships, academic support and climate change.
Coun. Jay Fallis applauded the idea.
“I think it’s a wonderful initiative and something we can be really excited about,” said Fallis, noting Gravenhurst recently went down this path and has had a positive experience engaging youth.
Mayor Steve Clarke agreed, calling the new senate a “great evolution” of the former OYOC.
‘We often talk about having youth involved,” said Clarke. “This is truly a meaningful way that will have meaningful involvement of youth for years to come.”
Coun. Ralph Cipolla also lauded the concept, but suggested the youth change the name to Orillia Youth Senate to better reflect their location.
After a moment of thought and a brief whisper from O’Brien, Yep said: “Thank you. We’ll take that under advisement.”
The youth of the Sunshine Youth Senate appear to have a bright future in politics.