Many programs throughout Oro Valley, including movie screenings and senior care projects, aren’t organized by the town itself, but by a specialized council of high school students looking to make a difference.
The Oro Valley Youth Advisory Council is a group of local teens who come together as advocates to improve their community. They are voices for their generation who participate in town government and are involved in community service.
Students who take part in the youth council are from high schools in Oro Valley and the immediate area: Ironwood Ridge, Canyon del Oro, Catalina Foothills, Pusch Ridge, and BASIS.
“Most don’t understand what municipal government is,” said Jessica Hynd, the advisor for OVYAC. “They think elected positions. They don’t think town manager and department directors, and it sparks interest…We had a previous president two years ago now serving as economic intern at the U.S. Embassy in London. It allowed him to improve on his leadership and opened his interest in civil service. He will graduate from Yale in ’21.”
The Oro Valley Youth Advisory Council formed in 2012 after local councilmembers were inspired by the youth councils of neighboring communities. There are now 23 members, from freshmen to seniors. This past year, 14 members graduated and only seven are returning members. About 40 applications come in every year.
To become a member, students need to fill out an application, provide a reference letter and answer a couple long form questions. Applications are generally due the first week of April, and the best applications earn the students an interview with the advisor for the youth council.
Within OVYAC there are elected officers: president, vice president, secretary, historian and treasurer. The members elect each position, and it’s all student run. There are also committees, including teen event planners who plan a movie night at the aquatic center and a barbecue field day, town liaisons who attend council meetings, senior relations who plan activities with the senior community, and a technology group that helps teach seniors how to better use technology.
Faith Kirkland, a sophomore at CDO and new member to OVYAC said she joined because she was interested in community work, specifically working with seniors and bringing generations together. She also plans to promote recycling and environmental awareness in her community.
“You need interactions with other people to help build social skills and character,” Kirkland said. “I’ve always wanted to do more charity work. I work at my church now. I’m a youth singer and lead the whole worship program. I’ve been in my community, on mission trips as a leader, done camps with kids…I always wanted to do more. I felt like YAC was that perfect spot.”
Members also attend Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee meetings, providing feedback about what programs teens are interested in. They assisted the Chief of Police with the distracted driving ordinance, promoting it within their high schools. A group from Oro Valley went to the capital to discuss their support of the recently passed hands-free legislation. They have also spoken at council meetings about having a community center in Oro Valley.
One of the major projects run by the youth advisory council members is the Music and Memory program. Students raised more than $4,000 to purchase iPods and music for residents of the Catalina Springs Memorial Care facility who have dementia or Alzheimer’s. The playlists were developed by the teens after spending time with the residents and researching music from the residents’ youth. The idea was to reconnect the residents with their younger days, with good memories.
The youth advisory council also hosts a movie night at the Oro Valley Aquatic Center during the summer months, called the Dive-In. While the movie is played on a big poolside movie screen, high schoolers from the area get to eat pizza and popcorn, float around in the pool, hang out with friends, and meet new ones.
For Ethan Woodard, a CDO senior and second-year OVYAC member, the council provides experience and preparation for his hopeful career in Congress. He is particularly concerned with affordable healthcare.
“I get to be a voice for kids in my community,” Woodard said. “Young adults can have a voice in our government.”
Meredith O’Neil is a University of Arizona journalism graduate student and Tucson Local Media intern.