Youth making a difference in county government

Genesee County teens are working to improve their community through civic engagement.

A diverse group of youth and adults standing in front of a desk.
Youth commission members with the Genesee County Board of Commissioners. Photo by Darren Bagley.

In most K-12 education, students learn a great deal about federal government but little about state, tribal and local government. Because tribal, state and local government can have a huge impact on day-to-day life, it is important to understand how those systems of government work, and how youth can work to improve their communities by connecting with those government systems.

Thanks to the Genesee County Youth Commission, one group of youth is now better informed about each of these government systems. The commission was made up of a diverse group of nine youth, one from each county commissioner’s district. Commission members were:

  • District 1: Samuel R.
  • District 2: Kennedy L.
  • District 3: Melodie M.
  • District 4: Collin R.
  • District 5: Sydney C.
  • District 6: Victoria G.
  • District 7: Kaya R.
  • District 8: Noor A.
  • District 9: Corbin B.

Genesee County Clerk and Register Domonique Clemons, an alumnus of the Genesee County Youth Commission, was integrally involved. As elections are overseen by the Clerk’s office, it was an excellent fit.

The program began with an introduction to many functions carried out by county government. After gathering that information, youth commissioners went through an issues identification process where they selected a topic they felt was critical for action in Genesee County. The topic ultimately selected was food insecurity.

A group of youth sitting around a table.
Youth commission members with state representative Jasper Martus. Photo by Darren Bagley.

The group then spent three days in Lansing as part of 4-H Capitol Experience. The youth commission had an intriguing breakfast conversation with Representative Jasper Martus. Students also met with Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sarah Anthony and were allowed to bang the gavel in her ornate committee room.

A young lady banging a gavel on an ornate desk next to a woman.
Youth commission member with State Senate Appropriations Chair Sarah Anthony. Photo by Darren Bagley.

After 4-H Capitol Experience, the youth commission met with experts from Michigan State University Extension, the Greater Flint Health Coalition and Genesee County Community Action Resource Department to learn more about their chosen issue. Based on the expert testimony and additional research, they developed a presentation for the board of commissioners.

A group of young people with a police officer.
Youth commission members after touring the county jail. Photo by Darren Bagley.

In May, the youth participated in a “Day at the County” where they met with numerous Genesee County decision makers, including Prosecutor David Leyton and Judge Hanible. They also toured the Genesee County Jail, Friend of the Court, Genesee County Parks, Genesee County Metropolitan Planning Commission and the health department. The highlight of the day was youth presenting their recommendations to the board of commissioners and sitting with them during their meeting.

A group of young people sitting in a jury box while a man in a suit speaks to them.
Youth commission members with Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton. Photo by Darren Bagley.

Following the program, participants filled out an evaluation. They showed improvement on all 11 parameters that were measured. The biggest increases were in their positive responses to:

  • “I understand the needs of my community.”
  • “I understand public policy issues.”
  • “I have the confidence to influence governmental policies.”

Comments from the evaluation include:

  • “I didn’t know a thing about local government as opposed to state or federal, and now it appears to be far more important than I had ever realized.”
  • “I learned that there are more people who share similar interests in making changes in government than I thought. It was incredible to be sharing space with so many passionate people, both at the youth commission and at the Capitol visit.”
  • “This program has sparked an interest in pursuing a career in politics. Hopefully, I can become a county commissioner one day.”
  • “This program was amazing for anyone interested in local government. We got to meet people involved in Genesee County local government, such as our county commissioners, senators and local judges. This program introduced me to many people who share a common interest and are passionate for change, which is inspiring on its own. Our visit to Lansing was unforgettable and let us in on how bills are made while getting to meet lobbyists and those interested in our issue groups. Overall, this program will live on with me for many years to come and I’d encourage anyone to join it!”

MSU Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program help to prepare youth as positive and engaged leaders and global citizens by providing educational experiences and resources for youth interested in developing knowledge and skills in these areas. For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your local MSU Extension office.

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