Youth council a change agent

Published 8:56 pm Wednesday, February 4, 2009

In an era of social networking through texting, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube and blogs, the Suffolk Youth Leadership Council reached out to its peers on Saturday using the traditional method of “meet-and-greet” and “face-to-face.”

Organized under the Office of Youth, the SYAC hosted its first city-wide Youth Symposium, and by all measures the event was a major success. The event was supported by numerous volunteers, local service agencies and businesses, creating a strong showing of public/private collaboration and partnership.

In keeping with its oath to “uphold the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States of America”, the youth council became an officially sanctioned entity of Suffolk’s city government in October 2008. The organization is charged with advising the City Council on current youth safety issues, developing solutions for those problems, compiling and distributing information to increase awareness and improving communications between their peers, law enforcement officers and civic leaders throughout the City of Suffolk.

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The SYAC is led by Youth Services Coordinator Jennifer Branham and consists of 21 youth who represent Suffolk’s public middle and high schools and Nansemond-Suffolk Academy.

The City of Suffolk can take pride in knowing that the ‘leadership void’ is being filled with energetic, enthusiastic and bright individuals who have dared to step beyond the realm of traditional and conventional thinking by creating “A Diversified Experience” for ALL city youth.

Using “Leadership, Integrity and Service” as their mantra, they are already demonstrating their willingness, readiness and courage to take on socio-cultural issues that adult leaders often have side-stepped for convenience and political correctness.

From the beginning, SYAC members recognized the need to hear from their peers and respond to the myriad issues — whether the topic is inclusiveness, peer pressure, leadership and gang awareness or general community involvement.

Moreover, they are providing an opportunity for youth to use skills and knowledge in real-life situations; extend learning beyond the classroom and into the community; and foster a sense of caring for others.

In light of this group’s accomplishments, and looking to the future, the general Suffolk community must ensure that its success continues. The overwhelming importance that community plays in each of our lives makes it imperative that we support development of “new leadership” to ensure a strong, vibrant community.

Leadership developed with “integrity and service” as its foundation will ensure Suffolk’s future of being a more interconnected and progressive place; and, that the ability to deal with change, ambiguity, continuous learning, and repetitive innovation are within the grasp of ALL youth.

Long-term and continuous support from the general community will help create public/private partnerships that ensure the SYAC’s goals and objectives are met with adequate resources.

We have witnessed several “firsts” in recent weeks and the SYAC is among these notable events that represents “change”. As we celebrate the work and accomplishments of those who came before us, we — as a nation, state, community, public agency, foundation, business, or nonprofit — must take the long view and embrace the efforts of our youth.

We have the opportunity to reach beyond our comfort zones to show more love; find common purpose; move beyond our own turf to provide for common ground; and shift our analytical perspectives to face, accept and then navigate around the impediments that block change.

Leadership, Service and Integrity is a good starting point, and the SYAC members are the “agents for change” to get the job done.