Mayor’s youth council stays involved in community

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COURTESY PHOTO

Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry speaks to members of the Mayor’s Youth Engagement Council. The council is involved in numerous activities throughout the year.

The Fort Wayne Mayors Youth Engagement Council is midway through its ninth year as an organization.

The MYEC, comprising 20 high school students in their sophomore to senior year, provides a voice for Fort Wayne’s youth to its local government.

The students apply online and then do an extensive interview performed by mayor’s office staff.

“I have some of the most talented kids,” said Karen Richards, community liaison and director of special programs for the city and adult mentor for MYEC. “We have young people that are very focused on the future and their community.”

A pillar of the organization is its involvement with service-learning projects throughout the community.

One of those projects for the past three years has been Fort Wayne’s Dragon Boat Races. The mayor’s youth council brought the races to Fort Wayne after a patient of Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana brought the event to their attention as a way to bring awareness and recognition to Fort Wayne’s rivers. This year the races were passed on to Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department, but the group will continue to volunteer and be actively involved in the future.

The races have brought in tens of thousands of dollars, Richards said, adding that the money is donated entirely to local companies and organizations, such as Parkview Hospital’s Cancer Institute and Cancer Services.

MYEC students also participate in the Great American Clean Up, an annual event in which the council as well as many other Fort Wayne schools and organizations help pick up debris and litter around the city. In addition, the council participates in the Blue Star Banner Program, which was implemented to honor City of Fort Wayne residents and government employees who are actively deployed.

One of the big events MYEC is highly involved in is the Gala for Fort Wayne Sister Cities, in which they have guests from Japan, China, Germany and Poland. During the gala, which takes place in February, students get the opportunity to dress formally and seat the guests from other countries while introducing themselves.

“It’s a very hands-on evening for our students,” Richards said. Food is prepared from each of the visiting countries, allowing the students in the council to get a taste of their sister cities’ cuisine. Fort Wayne participates in student exchanges with these countries as well. In early October 2017 the group took a trip to Gera, Germany, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the cities’ relationship.

In past trips, the group has been treated to an American Day featuring a parade, where representatives dressed as American cowboys. The travelers also have been treated to American food and music. The trip offers many interesting facets for these students as they tour the city and visit monuments.

A big goal of MYEC students is to meet new and different people. MYEC and the city recently established what they call a “friendly city” to welcome Fort Wayne’s large Burmese population.

“We wanted to establish something of a relationship to bring us closer so that we can learn from our Burmese families and they can learn from us,” Richards said.

In addition, the students put together a River Rave on the Wells Street Bridge for those ages 14-20 in 2016. The event was sponsored by the Fort Wayne Police Department and SWAT Team.

“It was all about food, music, dancing and being together, meeting different kids,” Richards said. “They want to be with a different group, they want a diverse group and that’s what they’re reaching out for is people that are different from them … that they can learn about.”

The group is planning to do another River Rave this year as well as a Peace and Justice Summit, in which the students will put forth topics they want to learn more about. They hope to partner with all the high schools in Fort Wayne to participate.

For more information regarding the Mayor’s Youth Engagement Council and its mission, visit www.cityoffortwayne.com.