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Indianola Youth Council is Changing Lives

Posted on: November 17, 2015

As a member of the inaugural 2012-13 class of the Indianola Youth Council, Julien Whitfield understands the impact such an organization can have on a young life.

“Being part of it for four years has given me a good foundation, taught me to be a better leader and not to be afraid,” said the 17-year-old Gentry High School senior who currently serves as Youth Council president. “Always being part of a team also helped me hone my special skills.”

One of those skills is public speaking. For that, Julien and fellow Youth Council member, Willecia Hinton, will be traveling to Washington DC on Dec.2 to attend the 2015 Jobs for America’s Graduates’ National Student Leadership Academy. The pair placed third and second, respectively, in a speech competition held by the state-level affiliate, Jobs for Mississippi Graduates program.

This year marks the fourth class to be part of the Indianola Youth Council, a leadership organization that prepares high school students for the future. The program has grown each year since its inception, from 15 members in year one to 24 members in the current class. Plans call for future class sizes to hold at least 30 members.

“When the Indianola Promise Community began this program, we envisioned something that would have a lasting impact beyond high school; a program that would leave these students with skills they could use the rest of their lives,” said Anthony Powell, IPC program manager. “The Youth Council does just that. Julien and Willencia are proof positive.”

The council has evolved into an organization that provides an important voice for the discussion of issues that affect young people, exposing them to the nature and scope of city government and requiring a pledge to give the greatest possible service to the community. Members are comprised of students in 8th through 12th grades. The council brings these young people into the decision-making process of their community as it affects their future.

To join the council, prospective members go through an application process in August that includes writing essays about themselves and letters of recommendation. Applicants are then interviewed and a final group is chosen to serve.

Their decisions as council members affect every student in the school district because they represent all students. To do that, the students learn how government operates; the duties of governmental positions within the city, state and nation; the election and voting process; creation of laws; and problem solving on a city level. Overseen by a five-member adult advisory board, the Youth Council was created and developed by the Indianola Promise Community. Youth Council officers are elected by its members who run their own meetings.

Recently, the Youth Council adopted its own set of by-laws and a new curriculum that focuses on leadership skills, civic engagement and diversity. In addition, council members work in the community on projects such as IPC’s Community Garden, anti-bullying campaigns and last year’s IPC Showcase and Town Hall Meeting.

“Everyone has value in the Youth Council,” said Julien. “Everyone has something to contribute and that makes all of us better people.”