Mentoring future city leadership

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 2, 2012

SALISBURY — The Salisbury City Council is launching an initiative to help mold future leaders.
Councilwoman Maggie Blackwell said the council decided to charter a youth council during their annual retreat in February.
“You of all people are aware that our young people are our future and that their success today is tied to all of our success tomorrow,” she said to the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education on Monday. “This leadership program for the youth in our city will provide service and social opportunities.”
Blackwell said about 20 cities across the state already have similar programs.
“The state of North Carolina encourages cities to develop youth councils like this one to bring out the best in our young people,” she said.

The youth council will have six advisers including city staff and members of the community.
“We will work closely with the students, providing them with encouragement, mentoring and valuable feedback,” adviser Milena Sifuentes, a human resources analyst with the city, told the school board.
Sifuentes said most of the advisers already work with students either as part of their job or through volunteer work.
“We want to provide them with the support to help them be successful,” she said.
The advisers are currently working to create an application for students interested in participating in the youth council. At least one reference will be required as well.
Blackwell said they’ll conduct interviews to narrow down the pool of applicants to the nine students who will pilot the program when it begins in January.
The original group will include three freshmen, sophomores and juniors from Salisbury High School.
The program will swell to 30 students during the next academic year, expanding to other schools that have students who live within the city limits.
In the future, Blackwell said, the youth council itself will take applications and select new members.
Blackwell said the first set of students will be responsible for developing the group’s bylaws and initial goals.
“They will really set their own agenda,” she said. “That’s one of the sacred laws of youth council; the students really drive it.”
Gastonia’s youth council has created goals related to increasing the graduation rate and educating their peers about teenage pregnancy, Blackwell said.
“Our students will devise their own plan,” she said.
Blackwell said the school system will not have to lend any financial support to the program.
“It’s free to all students and underwritten by the city.”

Blackwell said not only will students who participate have something great to add to their college applications, they’ll also better relate to their community.
“Salisbury has traditionally had an issue when our young people go to college, they don’t return to town,” she said. “This is a way to get our youth to closely identify with being a part of our culture so that they feel invested in the community and want to come back.”
Blackwell also called the youth council a good “training ground” for the future.
“It will give them that feeling of being involved and the desire to serve the community later when they are adults,” she said.
Youth council also gives those students who might not make straight A’s or excel in sports an opportunity to shine.
“We are seeking a good blend of students,” Blackwell said. “We welcome your overachievers, but we also ask for students who may have undiscovered potential.”

The school board has unanimously agreed to support the youth council, a step Salisbury City Manager Doug Paris said was important to move forward.
“We think that’s very critical for this partnership between the city and the school system,” he said. “We’re excited about building future leaders in our community and getting students active.”
School board member Linda Freeze said she thinks the initiative will be a wonderful thing for the youth of Salisbury.
“My hat goes off to you,” she said.
Board member Kay Wright Norman said she’s looking forward to hearing great things about the program.
“I just wish Salisbury’s borders were not so small,” she said. “I would love to see this throughout the county.”
The program could easily be reproduced in Rowan’s smaller communities, board member Bryce Beard said.
Chairman Dr. Jim Emerson agreed.
“I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “I hope it is very contagious.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.