MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Just because they can’t vote, doesn’t mean they don’t have opinions and ideas worth hearing. That is one of the main ideas behind the creation of the Youth Advisory Committee in Maplewood. At its Sept. 4 meeting, Maplewood Township Committee unanimously appointed YAC’s six inaugural members. From different backgrounds, schools and ages, all six youths have one common goal: to make their mark on the community, ensuring a better future.
“This is an opportunity for the youth in our community to continue being agents of change, to lend their voice to the local issues that are important to them and the community, and to help shape the future of our community,” Committeeman Dean Dafis said at the Sept. 4 meeting.
The Youth Advisory Committee will comprise up to seven voting members, from grades eight through 12, and two Maplewood Township Committee nonvoting members, one liaison and an alternate. The new committee will meet on its own once a month under Township Committee liaison supervision and its chairperson or vice chairperson will attend at least one Township Committee meeting each month. Youth Advisory Committee members will have access to Township Committee minutes and public information. Dafis spearheaded the creation of the new committee in conjunction with Deputy Mayor Frank McGehee, Shannon Cuttle of SOMA Action, students and youth groups.
YAC’s inaugural members are Justin Strugger, Phoebe Hill, Lily Hawryluk, Miles Trumball, Dylan James and Bernadette Clawson; prospective member Dylan Reese Danuser is scheduled to be appointed at the next Township Committee meeting.
“I’m interested in this committee because I believe it’s a great opportunity to represent my peers and their ideas and I think I will really listen to their ideas and use it to change my community for the better,” Strugger, an eighth-grader at Maplewood Middle School, said at the meeting.
For Hill, joining the YAC is a continuation of the advocacy work she has begun to do in the past year — work she has grown to admire.
“I’m interested in becoming a member of this committee because I feel it’s a really good way for me to be able to represent by peers and to be able to do better in this community,” Hill, a freshman at Columbia High School, said at the meeting. “I’ve been working with SOMA Action a lot in this past year and I’ve realized how much youth can do in our community and in our modern-day world so I think it’s important that youth are involved and I want to get my peers involved with me.”
Like her YAC colleagues, Hawryluk feels that advocacy work and participation in local government is of vital importance at this stage in the United States’ growth and direction.
“I want to join this committee because I think it’s so, so important, especially in these times, that you are given a voice, because you see so many awful things happening in the world and nobody’s really trying to change anything and I think that youth really are the future and I think that on a small scale we can begin to change things. I think that’s really important,” Hawryluk, also a freshman at CHS, said at the meeting.
For Trumball, joining YAC is straightforward: It is an opportunity to effect change.
“I’m just interested in joining the committee because this is my second year in the school district and I care about this community,” Trumball, a sophomore at CHS, said at the meeting. “I’ve always just wanted to make a change and I was given an opportunity to do so, so I just wanted to take that opportunity.”
As the sole member of YAC not being educated in the local school district, James believes he can offer a unique perspective.
“I believe it’s important as a member to just make an impact on your community and I add a different perspective that I guess adults sometimes don’t have,” James, a junior at Oratory Prep School in Summit, said at the meeting.
Clawson got a taste of politics during the summer and learned that she should start at the local level in order to become an agent of change.
“I had the fortunate opportunity to intern at Sen. McCain’s office this summer and it was one of the most enriching experiences I’ve had so far,” Clawson, a CHS senior, said at the meeting. “I know that local government can make a bigger impact than many perceive, so I wanted to take the opportunity to apply to be on the Youth Advisory Committee here because I’d really like to continue my work with local government and make the change that I would like to see.
“Youth are the future and if we want the future to be something we would like, it’s going to take action when we can to produce what we would like see in the future,” she concluded.
“I think you’re all very fine examples of what youth can do,” Dafis said to the new appointees at the meeting. “You’re already doing it. You’re not just the future, you are the present.”
At the meeting, Dafis was appointed liaison to the committee and McGehee as alternate liaison.
“The future is now for our youth,” McGehee said in a press release. “As they continue to make a positive impact in our community and beyond, our youth must be empowered with opportunities to advance their agenda, lead initiatives and enhance their voice and resources toward their dedication to serve all people and the greater good.”
Applications for the new committee are being accepted on a rolling
basis. Submit an application to the Maplewood clerk’s office by visiting https://www.twp.maplewood.nj.us/home/webforms/youth-advisory-committee. The
Township Committee will interview prospective candidates. For more information
on the Youth Advisory Committee and requirements for its members, visit https://www.twp.maplewood.nj.us/sites/maplewoodnj/files/uploads/ordinance_2914-18.pdf.
“We received a very enthusiastic response of applications from the community. We will continue accepting applications on a rolling basis as we suspect that certain students might become overconsumed as the school year proceeds with their school responsibilities and their activities outside of school,” Dafis said.
Dafis told the News-Record the township received 19 applications.
“Student applicants were asked to fill out a form which asked them to identify themselves, tell us why they were interested in serving on the committee, which issues were important to them, what kinds of extracurricular activities they expect to be involved in during the new school year, and any examples of their existing social justice advocacy,” Dafis told the News-Record on Sept. 8. “We made selections based on students’ answers and their profiles. The students we appointed are already very active in being agents of change in the community; at least two of them were honored by Gov. Murphy in a special ceremony on the State House floor in Trenton back in May for their gun safety advocacy in the March for our Lives movement. Diversity in race, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, geographic location, school — private and public schools — and grade level — eighth through 12th — were also considered.”