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‘New Generation of Leaders’: West Hartford Mayor Launching Youth Council

Acting West Hartford Libraries Director Carol Waxman (left) and Teen Services Librarian Kari Karp will supervise the work of the Mayor's Youth Council. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

West Hartford students in grades 9-12 are invited to apply to be part of the advisory group.

By Ronni Newton

West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor read aloud a proclamation at the May 11 Town Council meeting, formalizing the creation of an advisory group she believes will play an important role in the future of the town and in preparing the next generation of community leaders.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time,” Cantor said of the launch of the West Hartford Mayor’s YouthCouncil.

Early on after becoming mayor, Cantor said she began researching youth councils in other communities, but there weren’t many examples in Connecticut, and the actual process of forming one turned out to be somewhat complicated. “Connecticut has laws that those on boards and commissions have to be electors, and there needs to be minority representation,” she said.

Most teens are not yet eligible to vote, but it’s important to have their voices heard, for them to be able to collaborate, to have a “true voice and have a seat at the table,” Cantor said.

“The need for it has been consistent, with input and feedback on a variety of topics,” said Cantor. “Also, it’s important to instill an interest in civic engagement,” she said, which the students will then spread to their friends.

Following much discussion with the Corporation Counsel’s office, the decision was made to create the council as an advisory group, and to do it by proclamation. Carol Waxman, acting director of the West Hartford Libraries, was very responsive to the idea, and she, along with Teen Services Librarian Kari Karp, who were the recipients of the proclamation on May 11, will supervise the MYC.

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Mayor’s Youth Council proclamation. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The MYC will be comprised of 11 students, grades 9-12, who live in West Hartford and attend public or private school or are home-schooled. The goal is to have broad representation from schools, neighborhoods, backgrounds, and interests.

The 2021-2022 academic year will be the inaugural year, and members will meet monthly, on the third Tuesday of the month from 6-7 p.m. They will plan and complete impact projects and work with town departments and other organizations on a variety of local initiatives.

“We have observed with many teens that there is an increased interest in politics … and community service,” Waxman said at the Council meeting. She said throughout the pandemic, there has been a strong core of virtual volunteers assisting the West Hartford library’s teen department, and the Teen Advisory Board met biweekly – completing more than 200 hours of service on projects like painting wall murals and designing a West Hartford-themed escape room.

The MYC “will broaden their outlook to address matters on a town-wide scale,” said Waxman. Greenwich, which does have a teen council, as well as Boston, will serve as models.

In addition to working on local initiatives, “Mayor’s Youth Council applicants will be encouraged to identify topics that are meaningful to them,” Waxman said, which will then become their own action projects.

Notice of the creation of the MYC has been shared through the schools, and the selection will be based on information completed in an application which will also include a 200-500 word essay, Karp said, as well as a letter of recommendation.

“Interest in town government and passion for social action” will be important factors in the the selection process.

“When you’re in it, and you live it, you understand. It’s different,” Cantor said. “I think we will be grooming future leaders.”

Karp will participate in the selection of MYC members, along with a staff member from the West Hartford Public Schools administration, and/or a Town Council member. There will also be an in-person or virtual interview.

Selection will be made over the summer, and appointments will be for a one-year term, with a second term permitted for those who remain eligible.

Click here to access an application. The essay and letter of reference should be sent to Teen Services Librarian Kari Karp at [email protected]westhartfordlibrary.org no later than May 31, 2021.

Because May 31 is a holiday, printed copies of the application may also be brought to the teen room at the Noah Webster Library, 20 South Main St., on Tuesday, June 1 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Anyone with questions should contact Karp at [email protected]westhartfordlibrary.org or 860-561-6996.

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