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Tomorrow’s leaders tackle civic affairs

By Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Published 10:57 PDT, Fri October 15, 2021

Last Updated: 11:24 PDT, Fri October 15, 2021

Idea of Richmond youth council promoted

It’s often said that youth are the leaders of tomorrow.

And through the city’s youth civic engagement program, Richmondites aged 15 to 20 can share their ideas to help make the city better, as well as learning about the inner workings of local government.

The program was first pitched to city council in 2019, although the onset of the pandemic shifted it to a virtual platform. CityHive, an organization whose goal is to get youth involved in civic planning, facilitates the program. Youth attend weekly sessions, with city councillors acting as guest speakers. The program culminates in project proposals from the youth, who are split into small subgroups.

“The main purpose of the proposals was to get insight from council members—they helped us modify our proposals, and also look at the logistics and tell us if it would be possible or not,” says 18-year-old Sarina Sandhu, who took part in the program last year. “Some were not possible, (and) others they were willing to consider.”

Along with another youth, Sandhu proposed the creation of a youth multicultural advisory committee to further the city’s related goal. 

She was surprised to learn how many responsibilities the city has, and how they’re divided up between council members as opposed to all being part of the mayor’s job. She appreciated being able to voice her opinion, as well as helping to represent other youth. 

“I learned that it takes a lot to run a city, and also that Richmond has won a lot of awards that not that many people are aware of,” she says. “The city is doing a lot to ensure that we are environmentally friendly, even if it might not be obvious. There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to make sure the city is running.”

Sandhu appreciated the interactive aspects of the program, but thinks it would benefit from increased outreach so more youth know it’s happening. She would also add a component to help youth retain information, and resources to help them stay active with civic engagement.

Zach Andrade, 17, was also a program participant last year. He says the program shows that the city wants to hear from youth residents who can help with new ideas and changes.

“If you truly do see something in your community that you’re dissatisfied with, you can come up with a formal way to try and make your community better,” says Andrade. “I think that’s really cool, that we were given that platform to speak, and I hope that more youth are given that opportunity.”

Andrade is also a member of the Steveston youth council, and says it’s fulfilling to plan and facilitate activities. Through that group, he is glad to help create community offerings that are affordable or completely free, keeping them open and accessible for everyone.

When it came time to pitch a project idea, Andrade says his subgroup had many ideas but struggled to narrow them down and find something that could actually be implemented in the community. In the end, they pitched a pop-up recycling depot in East Richmond because they saw the need for a more accessible location for Hamilton residents, given the location and popularity of the Terra Nova depot.

“It’s such a jarring feeling to be like, ‘I want to be heard and want to be a voice for change’ and then be given the opportunity to speak on a matter that’s important to you, and wonder what are you going to choose, and try to nail down a solid plan that incorporates effective change,” says Andrade.

Coun. Michael Wolfe says while the program is valuable, he believes it could be even better as a youth city council or youth advisory committee. The voices of young people, he says, are “invaluable.”

“This is why I got into politics and was running in elections at 23. I thought I could show other young people that we could do this,” says Wolfe.

The youth members’ proposed projects could possibly come to fruition in the future, although Wolfe would have preferred to see these presented at a council meeting to a wider audience.

“If it’s just in a Zoom call for some people to attend, it’s not going to have as big of an impact,” he says.

Andrade agrees that although the city is taking steps in the right direction, there’s still a long way to go in terms of making municipal government a bigger talking point for youth.

“Right now there’s so many young people who have something to say, and have ideas, and a lot of them are so inspired and wanting to incite change,” says Andrade. “As a city, we should be opening our ears to all demographics, even people who might be a little bit more unassuming.”

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