Meridian Star

Local News

September 7, 2013

Mayor's Youth Council steers teens toward leadership

MERIDIAN —     Students in Meridian are learning more about leadership through the efforts of a program designed to give them a closer look at the role of community leaders.

    The Mayor's Youth Leadership Council is in its third year in Meridian and is planning to expand into county schools this year, according to Jay Pearson, director of the Mississippi School of Protocol and Etiquette, which helps develop young leaders.

    "This is the program that developed the Mayor's Youth Leadership Council. It is also the program that is required to serve on the youth council," Pearson said. "It provides the students the leadership foundation and the life skills that they need to be successful in providing leadership in the organization. It's fun, it's interactive and they learn a lot of things that they don't get elsewhere."

    This year they are hoping to double the size of the program by opening it up to the county schools. They also have a new program through which teachers are trained.

    "Every teacher that participates in our Parent-Teacher Reinforcement Day gets free CEU credits, which has an $1,800 value," Pearson said. "We have partnered with the Department of Defense and they will actually come in and teach a component of the program called Teaching to the Digitally-Aged Student.

    This year parents will also be provided with college scholarship information, he said.

    Renuka Srivastava, a student at Meridian High School, has been elected mayor. She is in her third year of the program and said it gives students an opportunity to learn more about the surrounding area.

    "We do tons of community service. We reach out to everyone in Meridian. We want to involve ourselves and give back to Meridian," Srivastava said. "Through this council, I have met the governor of Mississippi. I've met the lieutenant governor. We have gotten to meet a lot of different people from Meridian. We have done so many fundraisers."

    The program also brings students together from different parts of town, she said.

    "Before, a lot of the people were not as verbal or as outgoing and didn't really involve themselves. After this program, a lot of people have come together," Srivastava said. "For example, people from Lamar School, Meridian High School, and Northeast, have come together.     We have met, put aside our school rivalries and become friends."

Annabella Sills of Lamar School, is in her first year on the council.

    "I've met so many people. Being at different schools, you don't really get to meet people from different schools," Sills said. "We do lots of community projects together and we have become really good friends. It's really good to get to reach the other youth in your community that you wouldn't get to meet otherwise."

    Griffen Gardner of Northeast Lauderdale said the program has given him more self-confidence.

    "When I joined the council, you can probably ask anyone of the original people on the council, I was pretty shy," Gardner said. "As I've been on the council, I have been able to open up. It's just been a great, great way to meet new people and to get some great experiences that will stay with us throughout our entire lives."

    Now Gardner is comfortable with speaking to a group of people.

    "At one point we have all had to stand up and talk in front of people. If you can't just do it, you are going to have to learn it," Gardner said. "Part of being on this council is being confident in yourself and to stand up and talk, to express yourself."

    Shahmeer Hashmat of Lamar School said they have done everything from serving hot chocolate downtown during the Christmas season to hosting a crime summit for young people.     Although different, each experience was meaningful, he said.

    The council invited police officers, attorneys and others to talk about crime to other young people, who were given the opportunity to ask questions about crime and discuss its impact on people their age. Hashmat said he learned that many teens didn't have access to information about what  the community was doing to help them.

    "They didn't know exactly what they had to do and what they could do to improve on it, to improve themselves and the community around them," Hashmat said. "When the summit came along, they got the answers to those questions. They learned what they could do to improve. I think if we keep doing this, more people will start to understand how this community is and what people can do to help out."

    Sills agreed.

    "They felt like they were being heard and it wasn't just all the adults making decisions and that no one cares. They felt a part of it," Sills said. "The policemen came out and talked and they (youth) felt like they were on their side. They wanted to help them; they weren't against them."

    Pearson is optimistic that the local program will grow.

    "Every student who completes the program can then apply to be on the Mayor's Youth Leadership Council. The goal is to have 35 well trained, well educated teen voices that can go and not only have an impact in their community but with the entire state," Pearson said.

    For more information, go to www.msope.com

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