TWIN FALLS — Reylene Abbott fell in love with Twin Falls Youth Council.
About seven years ago, her mother made her join the group during sophomore year of high school. Abbott had recently transitioned to homeschooling and taking online classes.
Abbott met other teenagers who were motivated and who had a clear vision for their future. She ended up continuing with Council throughout high school and became president her senior year.
It was empowering, she said. “I think my favorite part of that was feeling like my voice mattered.”
Now, she’s alumni relations coordinator for the College of Southern Idaho.
Abbott hopes to help out with Youth Council on a more regular basis after recently moving back to the Magic Valley. She took two members to the Association of Idaho Cities conference in June in Boise.
Twin Falls Youth Council is recruiting teenagers — from eighth through 12th grades — who are interested in joining this school year. The group meets once a month from September through June.
It’s an opportunity to learn life skills such as communication and civic engagement. And for those who are interested in pursuing a career in government or politics, they can gain valuable connections and recommendations for internships and statehouse programs.
“It’s a great thing on college resumes,” said Twin Falls vice mayor Suzanne Hawkins, who’s the adviser for Youth Council.
So far, there are 21 members — a record number. “This is their largest group we’ve ever had,” Hawkins said.
Members also represent more schools than in previous years, including Twin Falls High School, Canyon Ridge High School and Filer High School. Students from surrounding Magic Valley communities are invited to join since Twin Falls is the only area city with a youth council.
Youth Council members advise the Twin Falls City Council on any issues related to youth in the community, Hawkins said, including for the city’s strategic plan.
Hawkins said she makes sure students understand city government is a non-partisan and Youth Council members aren’t there to fight politics, but their purpose is to serve the community.
“I think it’s really important they understand the governmental system,” she said. “And I think they don’t get taught that a lot at school.”
Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, started Twin Falls Youth Council when he was mayor. He estimated its inception was around 2008 or 2009.
Throughout Idaho, some other cities have a youth council — often, called a “Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council.” But the name is slightly different in Twin Falls because the mayor is appointed among elected city council members – not as a separate elected position.
Creating a youth council in Twin Falls wasn’t a unique idea, Clow said. “I just felt that it was an opportunity for the youth to get to know what goes on in city government, he said, and to learn about leadership.
He said he hoped it would attract students who weren’t necessarily leaders at their school — good youth, but who may be a little more shy.
Clow said his vision was also to have youth council members shadow city employees in careers they’re interested in. And for a while, Youth Council members showed up to City Council meetings to serve as hosts, welcoming visitors and handing out meeting agendas.
Over the years, the group has evolved, Clow said. There were quite a few homeschooled youth for a while after he gave a tour to a homeschooling group as mayor and mentioned the Youth Council.
Since the Council’s inception, some of its largest projects has been proposing the idea for a BMX bike park. Plus, “they were the first one asking for recycling in the city parks,” Hawkins said, and paid for the first year of the initiative out of its budget.
Each year, the Youth Council also picks a platform. Last year, it was “hula hoop for health” and members engaged fourth-graders in physical activities at school.
Three years ago, when police officers nationwide were coming under scrutiny, the council’s platform was encouraging community members to take selfies with cops and post them on social media websites. Ultimately, other youth councils throughout Idaho ended up adopting the project.
Members also volunteer to clean up yards that aren’t in compliance with city code to help elderly or disabled homeowners avoid receiving a fine.
It’s valuable when teenagers with diverse interests join Youth Council, Abbott said. “No matter what your interest in life, there’s a position for you at Youth Council.”