CENTRE WELLINGTON – The Township of Centre Wellington has gathered a group of passionate teenagers to be the voice of youth in the region.
The Centre Wellington Youth Council engages with council and township staff to keep them informed about what matters most to young people.
“A lot of the decisions that get made really affect our future,” said Rachel Smith, youth council member. “I think it’s important that we have our voices heard in political matters.”
Youth council member Rachel Routly said she sees this as a good opportunity to grow her political engagement.
“Municipal is a good first exposure to politics because it’s a lot easier to get involved on a local level,” Routly said. “Once you have more familiarity with politics you can grow that if you want to.”
Centre Wellington’s Communications Coordinator Kendra Martin is the main advisor to the youth council. She said one of Mayor Kelly Linton’s mandates when he ran for election in 2018 was to have a youth voice to help guide decisions.
“I think by having youth at the table and youth in particular who are passionate about a voice in their community can only make our municipal decisions better in the long run,” Martin said.
Martin said the township decided it needed youth mentors to act as a more relatable middle connection to her and the mayor. The mentors are responsible to build relationships and encourage local youth to have a greater interest in civic engagement.
The youth council is made up of six core members and meets twice a month although others can come to meetings to see if they're interested in being involved. According to the Centre Wellington website, they aim to have 11 regular members.
They have come up with four main goals to drive: be the voice for youth in Centre Wellington, promote student employment and volunteer opportunities, transportation improvement, and environmental awareness.
The youth council has had some input into the Transportation Master Plan. They identified an issue for young people to go between communities, such as Elora to Fergus. This can make it difficult for students to have part-time jobs. So the youth council looks into how they can promote the Ride Well program and integrate a bikeshare program into the community.
A major project for them in the spring is to promote maintaining a trail, commonly used by teenagers, that goes between Centre Wellington District High School and the Tower Street plaza in Fergus.
“We’re going to clean it up, make an event out of it and get the community together,” Smith said. “We also want to make teens at the high school aware of what their trash is doing to the environment and keep them conscious.”
Martin said they wanted the youth to have a tangible achievement to look back on as some of the core members will be moving away to post-secondary in the fall.
“So they can say at the end of their term ‘Look at what we were able to create’ and kind of a legacy going forward for kids in Grade 10 and 11 to step up and be a part of this,” Martin said.
Martin said with Centre Wellington being a predominantly rural community, a lot of those who grow up here look forward to moving to a bigger city for work or school. The youth council can work towards giving them a reason to come back.
“We always want them to remember what a great childhood and youth experience they had,” Martin said. “When they’re ready to start their families and look for their jobs that they’ll want to come back because there was something resonating in their community.”