By Lauren Baker
FRESNO, Calif. — On Feb. 4, the Fresno City Council awarded a contract and approved funding for the new Fresno Youth Commission program, which would allow teens and young adults to take an active role in the decision-making process on issues affecting the city.
The program is an example of youth advocating for youth as Fresno Boys and Men of Color led the advocating efforts to bring youth representation to the council. The Youth Commission was championed by councilwoman Esmeralda Soria and councilman Oliver Banes III. Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) won the contract to run the program.
“As the youngest member on the council, and having had many young people on my campaign, I understand the value of having youth voices involved in making decisions that affect our future,” said Soria. “I felt there should be something that teaches young people how the government works and how to work with their city’s elected officials.”
The youth commission program is funded for the next 2 years; the city has allocated $100,000 to the Youth Leadership Institute to oversee and manage the commission.
“When I first proposed the ordinance commission, the plan was to have it forever,” said Soria. “But then we had to make sure we incorporated the budget. This past budget cycle will provide $50,000 per year, so any foreseeable issues regarding the commission in the distant future would be that of budgetary concerns.”
The youth commission panel is in the process of being selected. The members will be sworn in at Fresno City Hall at 2:30 on April 28.
“We’re looking for a diverse group of young individuals who can bring new ideas and issues to light as well as recommend solutions as to how to address them,” said Soria. “ We hope that these 16 individuals will develop leadership skills that they can use to make a difference in our city.”
Marissa Vang, 16, applied and is excited for the chance to be a part of the council. Vang says she wants to represent more than just the youth perspective to the council.
“I am applying for the Fresno Youth Commission to help represent not just the youth in Fresno but the Hmong community as well.”
Vang believes that the council is an important opportunity because “decisions made now affect all of Fresno … including youth.” She adds that young people can help revitalize the decision making process in Fresno. Young people, she says, “bring fresh ideas to the table.”