Six local teens will serve on the council.
The members of the Ocoee Youth Council have been selected.
City leaders voted unanimously during the Aug. 6 commission meeting to appoint six local teens to the Ocoee Youth Council. Commissioners also voted unanimously to approve a resolution amending the bylaws for the council. Additionally, commissioners voted unanimously to allow the OYC to attend the Florida League of Cities Youth Council Program on Saturday, Aug. 17.
The OYC bylaws were amended to remove the minimum requirement of needing nine members to serve on the council, as only the six who were appointed met all the requirements and submitted all the required student materials before the deadline, OYC Coordinator Dorcas Dillard said.
“We really want youth to be more involved in government matters and (learn) how they can make a difference in their city,” Dillard said. “The other thing is to try to bring younger people (in) earlier into the (political) process so that they know the importance of showing up for meetings, how their voice makes a difference and — just in general — being part of the (political) process. … I think that a lot of things we do in society, we don’t bring young people in early enough to (let) them make decisions for the future, and a lot of things we’re doing now is going to affect them more.”
The OYC will serve as an advisory role to the city commission and may address matters relating to and affecting youth in the community. The council also can address matters related to increasing youth participation in local government, come up with and suggest ways to improve communication with students in Ocoee schools, plan and carry out service projects that benefit the city and come up with educational activities, recognition programs and employment opportunities for youth in Ocoee.
Two of those OYC members are Ocoee High senior Ashleigh Surrency, 17, and Wekiva High senior Erica Simmonds, 16. They both said they joined the OYC to be more involved in the community and to learn more about city government and how it operates.
“I felt as if our youth needed to be more (involved) in big decisions that they may not even know about,” Surrency said. “So that’s really why (I joined). I felt like our youth needed a voice in big decisions and not just put to the side and (have) the adults decide it without hearing what the youth actually think about certain things.”
“I joined the Ocoee Youth Council because I wanted to make a change in my community,” Simmonds said. “(I look forward to) hopefully finding more people to help with community service around the area. … I hope to learn what really goes on (in government). I don’t really know much about government or politics, so I hope to learn more about what they do and how they do things and how (a city is run).”
A strong supporter of Ocoee’s youth, Commissioner George Oliver has been leading the charge of establishing the OYC. With the OYC members appointed, Oliver said he looks forward to reaching out to more students at local schools during the school year.
“What I’m really looking forward to is school starting and getting more kids involved, getting the word out to kids that may or may not have heard about it prior to the end of May,” Oliver said. “I’m excited to meet with some of the principals at the different high schools in West Orange County and let them know that the program is out here and it’s ready to go and we’re ready for these kids to start giving us input in youth affairs.”
Oliver said in addition to reaching out to students in schools, he also plans on reaching out to homeschooled students. He added that he hopes to build a bridge between local youth and local government through the OYC.
“I’m hoping to get some relationships built,” Oliver said. “I would like for our city government to build a bridge to our youth because we’re building a city (for them).”