WAKEFIELD — Representatives of the Wakefield Youth Council were at Monday’s Town Council meeting to provide an update on their activities and initiatives over the past year. Youth Council chairman Ali Atoui and adult adviser Kyle Collins made the presentation.

The Youth Council is an organization of Wakefield youth aged 13 to 18 that work to empower youth voices in the town by promoting initiatives and advancing policy through local government.  Members learn the process to effectively advocate, involve themselves in town issues, implement projects that will benefit the town’s youth population and the community and more. During the 2023-24 term, the Youth Council has consisted of eleven voting high school members and three voting middle school members, along with one non-voting alternate.

“To manage our initiatives and policy goals,” Atoui said, “we break the Youth Council down into different subgroups. Foremost of these is the Communications/Outreach Subcommittee, which handles messaging and public outreach via social media and facilitating certain initiative discussions. For other topics, we have created working groups, as we did for the grant project that we were able to procure and execute.”

Each Youth Council member is assigned a liaison position to serve as a line of communication and collaboration between the Youth Council and another Wakefield board, commission, or organization, Atoui explained. Some of those liaison connections include of the School Committee, Beebe Library, Council on Aging, Safe Streets Working Group, Human Rights Commission, Environmental Sustainability Committee, Police Department, Recreation Department and the Town Council.

Atoui highlighted one the Youth Councils recent initiatives, called “The Intergenerational Tree Project.”

The project was initiated by Vanessa Westlake, who worked to write a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant to receive funding for this project. This multi-generational art project was designed to bring senior citizens and students together to create a mural to be displayed in public spaces throughout Wakefield. Once approved, the project was held in the Senior Center on April 3.

“The event saw a turnout of over 60 youth and seniors of Wakefield, making it a success,” Atoui said. The art created during the event allowed for community dialogue and connection between generations. The final art project is currently being pulled together by a WMHS art student using the leaves decorated during the event, and once complete, the final “tree” will travel around different public locations in Wakefield.

Another Youth Council initiative related to school culture and support, Atoui explained. The Youth Council began this initiative following the presentation they received on the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which elucidated numerous concerning statistics. Subsequently, the council had an extended discussion detailing the central role school culture has played in many of these issues — ranging from bullying to depression to general school engagement — and how the Youth Council might be able to take action to improve it.

“From here, the Youth Council split the issue into two components: school culture at the Galvin Middle School and school support services at the WMHS,” Atoui said. “Youth Council Civic Engagement Advisor Kyle Collins took the lead on formulating a survey based on our discussion and additional guidance from the Youth Council and Galvin Positive School Culture Team. This survey garnered much response and its results were included in a professional development for teachers. Its results demonstrated the need for more consideration for school culture.”

At the WMHS, Chair Ali Atoui and former Youth Council advisor Catherine Dhingra first met with the School Adjustment Counselors to better understand the school support system at the high school. Coupling this with the previous Youth Council discussion, areas for increased awareness became evident, Atoui said. 

Upon working with Director of Guidance David Robinson, a plan is in motion to increase student awareness in accessing the various facets of the school support system — especially starting with guidance counselors. 

Atoui also discussed the Youth Council’s role in assisting local students with various civic action projects.

Another Youth Council initiative related to financial literacy, Atoui said.

After a discussion initiated by a separate project of member Ahmed Othman, the Youth Council discussed the merits of financial literacy and how it affects young members of society who will soon assume much more influence over their own financial status. 

“We voted in favor of recommending adding a financial literacy course to the curriculum, as it would be beneficial to Wakefield students,” Atoui noted. 

Another Youth Council initiative was an “Open Mike Night” at the Albion Cultural Exchange. As liaison to the Recreation Department, member Sofia Panighetti initiated this project and worked with Chair Atoui to plan and execute it. A hot chocolate bar was set up for attendees as well. Performers from the audience told interesting stories, jokes, and sang — providing an opportunity for more community engagement.

Another Youth Council program was led by Safe Streets Working Group liaison Juliana Spaulding, in which a bike valet was set up at the Farmers Market every Saturday. The valet was consistently staffed by the Youth Council, the Youth Action Team, and other members of the community. Being consistently used by cyclists and others seeking a safe way to leave their method of transportation, the program was successful and is being reviewed to potentially return for this summer, Atoui said.

The Youth council has also reached beyond Wakefield, Atoui said. Several Youth Council members met students from Malden to discuss strategies as a youth government organization impacting local government. At the time, Malden was debating whether to emulate Wakefield in creating a similar Youth Council.

Atoui also highlighted several other Youth Council initiatives. 

“The Snow Angels Shoveling Program returned this year for its third winter to pair youth members of the community with older Wakefield residents to shovel their walkways,” he said.  

Nathaniel Chines has led a project to bring back the Recycling Club at the Galvin and increase recycling methods at the school. 

Annabeth Goryl has been involved with the Beebe Library in gaining data about library usage and program benefits. The Youth Council has worked with he WHRC to volunteer at many of their events and promote their information. 

On behalf of the town, members of the Town Council praised and thanked the Youth Council for its work.