One important lesson that all of us as professionals have come to know is the importance of continuing education. Don’t worry; I am not talking about enrolling back in school to spend thousands of dollars on books, staying up all night cramming on caffeine and crib notes or purchasing that package of No. 2 pencils that can perfectly fill in those tiny, irritating circles. I am talking about the opportunity for you as a professional to improve your organization for everyone in the community that you serve. And one often overlooked learning tool in a community with a direct line to City Government – local youth.
The City of Ankeny created the Mayor’s Youth Council (MYC) in May, 2000 as a way to give a “voice” to the youth in the community. The MYC provides Ankeny’s young people with an active role in addressing youth issues. Fifteen high school students are appointed to serve as volunteer representatives to advocate on behalf of Ankeny youth, inform them of existing opportunities and listen to suggestions on what the City can do to improve its youth oriented efforts. It is a functional city board complete with an outline of purpose, composition, organization, duties and requirements. They meet on the first and third Sunday of the month and the meetings are open to the public. Serving on the MYC offers leadership experience and active community involvement with the guidance of the Mayor, City Council, and the Parks & Recreation Department.
Through the years the MYC has evolved as the demands from the youth in the community have changed. At this year’s annual planning retreat it was decided that for the upcoming year they would center their resources on three focus areas: service learning, leadership opportunities and special events. The event I am going to tell you about encompasses all three of the aforementioned focus areas and is the MYC’s largest and fastest growing annual event, the City of Ankeny’s Youth Leadership Symposium.
The Youth Leadership Symposium, now in its sixth year, includes a complimentary breakfast, a featured keynote speaker that has inspired with his/her story of inspiration and leadership, and an awards ceremony for the Ankeny Youth of the Year and School Club of the Year. Last year’s speaker was Drake Athletics Director, Sandy Hatfield-Clubb who inspired the audience with her message about strategies for success and following your passions. Over 120 high school students, parents and local dignitaries attended the event.
This free event provides youth in the community an opportunity to better themselves as individuals and give back to their community through unselfish acts of volunteering their time. By taking advantage of the symposium students meet and learn from the experiences of people who have been in their shoes, succeeded, and hear of possible trials and tribulations that lie ahead of them on their way to becoming a success story of their own.
We have been fortunate enough to fund the event through secured grants and local sponsorships. We have worked closely with teachers in the school system and the chamber of commerce to promote it as a city-wide event.
Applications for Youth of the Year and Group of the year are very simple to complete and judged by a youth selection committee. The program is not very long in duration, but has the ability to impact hundreds of students as they plan for the future.
Finally, the event gives area youth face-to-face interaction with City Council and City Administrators to talk and discuss on some of the more pertinent issue regarding youth today. Youth are a valuable tool for communities and easy to tap when you get everyone in the same room together.