Windermere Active Youth Committee offers teens opportunity for community involvement
Ten local teenagers have a heart for making a difference in their town through the W.A.Y. Committee.
| 1:02 p.m. February 24, 2021
It all started with 20 black YETI tumblers engraved with the town of Windermere’s logo.
In May 2019, then-17-year-old resident Grace Foglia approached Town Manager Robert Smith with the idea of providing town staff and council members with the reusable cups in lieu of plastic water bottles.
From there, Foglia’s initiative became the inspiration for a young-adults committee that would take on similar service projects and allow youth to get involved in their town. In fall 2019, the Windermere Active Youth committee — known as W.A.Y. — was born.
W.A.Y. provides the town’s youth with an opportunity to have their voices heard and to make a difference in the community. The committee creates volunteer opportunities for its members, as well as other high school students, and serves as a way to bridge the generational gap.
Now in its second year, W.A.Y. comprises 10 committee members. Most attend Olympia High School, although two are Windermere High students.
Committee Chair Raeland Mitchell, 17, is a senior at Olympia High and served last year as Foglia’s vice chair.
“She approached me about it, and I wanted to get involved because growing up in Windermere, I volunteered at a lot of the events, but I thought having a committee would just centralize it and allow us to spread the message to everybody,” Raeland said. “I just really wanted to make an impact on our town.”
Fellow Olympia High senior Mattie Jacoby, 18, also has been part of W.A.Y. since its inception. Inspired by Foglia’s advocacy for a more eco-friendly alternative to plastic water bottles, Jacoby accepted an invitation to join W.A.Y. when it launched.
“It seemed so official, and I’ve never done anything like that in the town before, and I was like, ‘This is really neat,’” Jacoby said. “I thought it would give me a chance to be more informed about the town other than just through their social media, and to be able to talk about things around Windermere and have a voice and a say about it.”
Other members, such as Windermere High sophomore Ananya Misra, are newer to the committee. Ananya, 16, said she discovered W.A.Y. while conducting a Google search for opportunities to get involved in her community.
Raeland said W.A.Y.’s main mission is to increase volunteerism, advocate for the environment and bridge the generational gap between residents. Members meet monthly to discuss ideas and possible events to help around town. They also help out with other town committees, such as Parks and Recreation, and recently volunteered their time with the town’s tree giveaway.
It’s been a tough year for the committee; COVID-19 has put a halt to many of W.A.Y.’s events.
They did go ahead recently with Zest Fest, which took place Feb. 13. The committee gathered at the 1887 Schoolhouse for an hour that morning to pick fruit from the surrounding citrus grove. That fruit was then donated to the Society of St. Andrew. The Windermere Historic Preservation Board also was on site offering tours of the schoolhouse.
It was pouring rain that morning, but that ended up being one of the most memorable parts — being with friends, laughing about the weather and knowing the fruit was going to people who needed it.
“Going to the event, it was pouring rain, and we were still picking all the fruit,” Raeland said. “To really see that all go in the car and I know it’s going to be donated — it was a really good feeling.”
SERVICE AND CAMARADERIE
Although many of the committee members attend the same school, it’s not a given they know one another. W.A.Y. also has provided the teenagers with new friends and taught them about leadership and government procedures.
“At first, I was a bit intimidated by meeting so many new people — especially since I didn’t know anyone on the committee — but I think I warmed up pretty well, and it’s a lot of fun learning about parliamentary procedure and just learning about the way it works,” Ananya said.
Likewise, Jacoby was nervous about collaborating with teens she didn’t know — especially in a more formal setting. However, she soon realized just how much she enjoyed being able to do just that.
“I was like, ‘Wait, this isn’t so bad, because this is the how the town does this,’” Jacoby said. “It’s very official, and we have someone to help guide us and make sure we’re following the guidelines. I had no idea that’s how it worked, and I thought that was really neat, because it kind of showed me how they do meetings. They make sure everyone can talk, and everyone has a say in it to ensure that everyone is able to put out their ideas.”
Town Council Member Liz Andert, the committee’s liaison, said W.A.Y. members are deeply committed to their town.
“Many are from families that have called Windermere home for years,” Andert said. “They have seen their neighbors volunteering and serving in the town, and they want to be a part of that. It’s commendable and humbling, and wonderful to watch their leadership and organization skills advance here where they live.”
For Raeland, becoming the committee chair this year has given her the chance to grow her leadership skills and become more diligent in organization, communication and collaboration. It also means a lot to her and fellow committee members to have the support of staff, parents and the Town Council.
“They really respect where we’re coming from, and they really helped us grow as a committee,” she said.