While most teenagers are spending their after-school hours with friends, a group of Petaluma teens are hard at work coming up with ways to make Petaluma better for youths their age.
A Casa Grande senior, Amy Jin is currently working on a safety project analyzing which intersections near local high schools pose the greatest danger to students. St. Vincent sophomore Keelin Dober is planning a citywide cultural diversity day to celebrate people's differences. And Hailey Lynch, a senior at Petaluma High, is developing plans for a fundraiser relay for a health charity.
These are just three of the teens serving on Petaluma's Youth Commission, a committee composed of nine youths and up to eight adults appointed by the City Council to advocate for young people in Petaluma. Jin, who serves as the youth chair and is in her third year on the committee, said that the lack of opportunities for teens in Petaluma drove her to become involved in with the Youth Commission.
"I am on the commission because I want to help local youth find the opportunities that are out there and try to create more," said a bright-eyed and dedicated Jin at Monday's City Council meeting, where she and her colleagues presented their plans to council members.
According to adult commissioner Laine Jen, the Youth Commission develops five projects each year, each focused on a different issue relevant to teens. "The teens create projects focused on health, safety, recreation, jobs and community engagement each year," she said. "It's really amazing because it's all the kids. We adults just try to guide them, but the projects are all their visions."
German Jimenez, a Casa Grande junior who is working on the safety project with Jin, said that he and his fellow commissioners have been developing a survey for local schools to assess which local school zones are most in need of better crosswalks, bike lanes and safety signage. The commissioners will present their findings to the City Council in February in the hopes of getting funds directed towards their suggested projects.
"I've learned a lot of responsibility and leadership skills through the Youth Commission," said Jimenez, who hopes to work in government as a foreign diplomat. "It's helping me learn about government, elections and politics and making me really excited about being involved."
Adult member Denise Trevino, who also serves on the Marin County Youth Commisison, said that Petaluma teens bring a whole new level of commitment to their projects and seem to be strongly supported throughout the community.
"The Youth Commission here is highly involved with the community," Trevino said. "They focus on projects that effect their hometown."
The excitement of the teens involved seems to have trickled into the rest of the community. Recently, when applications for adult appointments to the commission were sent out, multiple people applied for one adult spot. When the City Council had to appoint just one member, they found two extremely excited and engaged adults ready to join the commission.
Rather than turn a qualified individual away, the council voted to add an adult spot to the commission, something Councilmember and Youth Commission liaison Mike Healy said was a beneficial move.
"Both of the new members have already been contributing and it's been great to have the added involvement," he said at Monday's meeting.