Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Jacksonville's Young Get Their Voice Restored; $9 Million Federal Grant Helps Revive the City's Youth Council

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Jacksonville's Young Get Their Voice Restored; $9 Million Federal Grant Helps Revive the City's Youth Council

Article excerpt

Byline: Topher Sanders

Jacksonville youth are about to get their voices back.

Thanks to a federal grant to the Children's Commission, a group of Jacksonville's youth will have the chance to give their opinion to local lawmakers and provide fresh ideas on issues affecting young people.

The Duval Youth Voice Council was started in 2007, but the commission pulled the plug on it in 2010, citing dwindling participation and a need to have the staff member assigned to the program focus on other duties.

Now a six-year, $9 million grant with another $3 million in local matching funds is helping create the earlier group's successor, the Jacksonville Youth Council.

The 25-member council is a diverse group from all over the county, comprised of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds as well as representatives from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. They range in ages 13 to 25 and each submitted an application to be a part of the group.

"It's really important for kids to be able to say, 'Hey look, this isn't working,' " said Emily Robertson, a 21-year-old senior at the University of North Florida and a member of the council. "I think young people are overlooked and their ideas underestimated."

Robertson said the city officials and decision-makers can benefit from the ideas and creativity of the youth.

"I really hope that they take us seriously," she said.

The group, which meets every two weeks, is already working on a proposal for downtown beautification.

The council has also identified three areas of concern it will research: the city's suicide rate, the hiring of the Duval County Public Schools new superintendent and the human rights ordinance to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination that was voted down by the Jacksonville City Council in August.

"Our goal is that they are the ones when there's an issue that comes up before city council, before the mayor that they'll call upon the Jacksonville Youth Council and say, 'Hey, what do you guys think about this? …

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