Randee Haven-O’Donnell first developed an interest in government at the age of 15 when she joined a high school group that discussed current events and politics.
Now, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen member wants to help high school students develop that same interest in civic engagement she once found.
Last year, the Youth Advisory Board in Carrboro gave 11 Carrboro High School, Chapel Hill High School and home-schooled students the opportunity to work for and advise the Carrboro Mayor and the Board of Aldermen.
Alderman Bethany Chaney led the effort to create the youth-based program.
“It made sense to start to have an advisory board with teens that would inform some of our initiatives and give these teens a level of active participation that would inform our thinking,” Haven-O’Donnell said.
The overarching goal of the program was to have youth become engaged in the process of decision-making in civic government and develop leadership skills.
Students are selected for the advisory board by the Mayor, unlike other advisory boards which are selected by the Board of Aldermen, Alderman Damon Seils said.
Haven-O'Donnell said those who are selected get a unique opportunity to learn firsthand about their local government and, eventually, have an impact of their own.
The students in the Youth Advisory Board meet and discuss city policies and issues with the five Aldermen. Seils said he had been working closely with the Mayor about House Bill 2 and discussed the controversial bill with the students.
Toward the end of their term, the Youth Advisory Board began to take initiative and asked the Aldermen to discuss paved path that would be constructed through Carrboro's last forest.
“They were starting to feel like they could be proactive rather than reactive to things that were important to them,” Haven-O’Donnell said.
She said she hopes they can advise the Aldermen on proposed changes for Martin Luther King Jr. Park and the possibility of a teen center in the Orange County Southwest Library and overall hopes the program inspires more active engagement with the community.
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