The Northwest Youth Empowerment Council aims to teach its members a rare thing: government without politics.
On paper, the youth council looks a lot like the Las Vegas City Council.
It is composed of members from each grade level at five Centennial Hills-area high schools. Each of the council’s 17 administration-nominated members run for one-year terms in schoolwide elections at the end of each school year. The idea was hatched and pitched to school leaders by Ward 6 City Councilman Steve Ross three years ago.
Once elected, youth council members operate more or less like their municipally elected mentors, complete with a council-appointed public information officer and mayor pro tempore to conduct business in the mayor’s absence.
Even the typical youth council agenda looks a lot like the real thing, with members tackling heady topics ranging from youth homelessness to senior care.
But there are no primary or recall elections, no campaign spending controversies or staff-level political intrigues.
Monthly youth council meetings also tend to wind down much earlier than their adult equivalent, thanks in large part to the absence of a traditionally lengthy public comment period.
In short, there’s a lot to like about the way the youth council conducts its business.
“Our meetings are pretty fun,” said Centennial High School representative Cydni Long. “We have a lot of intellectual conversations, but mostly, we talk about different kinds of needs for students in the community.”
Meetings can also be a lot of work, according to Long.
She and her council peers are bogged down in a yearlong application process for the nonprofit Youth Neighborhood Association’s annual Partnership Program grant.
Council members used last year’s $1,000 award to sponsor Suitcases for Love, a citywide initiative to provide suitcases and hygiene items to the city’s estimated 6,800 homeless youths.
They plan to use this year’s grant on a similar program aimed at helping homeless students pay for prohibitively expensive graduation attire.
“The cost of (graduation) caps and gowns is really high, and it only goes up the longer you wait,” said 17-year-old Mayor Brandon DeWitte. “We realized, from working on (Suitcases of Love), that there will be 600 students who won’t be able to afford $90 for caps and gowns, so we wanted to get involved.”
Council members have been known to dedicate weekends to similar community projects, including neighborhood cleanups and group-sponsored picnics at the Centennial Hills Active Adult Center, though the job isn’t without its perks.
This month, Ross landed council members seats at Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman’s State of the City address. Last month, he invited a handful of members to sit with him behind the dais during a City Council meeting.
Over the past year, Ross has arranged youth council tours of Zappos, Channel 2 and the recently debuted Downtown Container Park.
The three-term councilman said the council isn’t just a novel way to keep kids off the streets. It’s more like a crash course in civic engagement for “nontraditional leaders.”
None of the council’s members are valedictorians, class presidents, cheerleaders or jocks. All have had a positive impact on their community.
“These kids are amazing,” Ross said. “We’ve seen them organize over 60 volunteers, including two Boy Scout troops, to come over and pull weeds and pick up trash at the senior center.
“This is just an exceptional group of kids willing to take ownership in their community.”
Northwest Youth Empowerment Council members meet the second Thursday of each month at the Centennial Hills Community Center, 6601 N. Buffalo Drive.
Council membership is open to currently enrolled ninth-, 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders at Northwest Career and Technical Academy, Centennial, Palo Verde, Arbor View and Shadow Ridge high schools.
For more information, visit the group’s Facebook page or contact Ross at 702-229-6154.
Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter James DeHaven at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3839.