Members of the Gateway to Opportunity youth program are working to create a Youth Council that would advise the City Council on issues important to young people. From left are team leader Josephine Katandula, Mariam Douale, Hamdi Adan, City Manager Jon Jennings, Ladislas Alzeyimana and Zia Mir Afghan. Contributed

PORTLAND — A group of young adults is devising a set of recommendations for creation of a Youth Council that would advise the City Council and city staff on topics of concern to teens.

They want to be involved in creating solutions for issues that directly impact them, while also ensuring their voices are heard at the top levels of city government.

In addition to creating the council, teens taking part in Gateway to Opportunity, or G20, which runs through Aug. 1, are also hoping to host an annual summit that would bring together speakers on topics identified as being important to youth in the city.

The G20 team is hoping to work directly with the City Council “on positive solutions that meet the needs of Portland’s youth,” said Mandy Levine, the city’s workforce diversity and inclusion specialist.

She said so far the G20 team is recommending that the Youth Council include 13 members and be selected much like the City Council or School Board, which has representatives from each electoral district, plus at-large members. Levine said the hope is to get the panel up and running by September.

The council would be open to anyone who is 14 to 18 and lives in the city, even if it’s at a homeless shelter, she said.

The G20 team has also created an online survey to help identify key issues facing youth in Portland.

The survey includes questions about education, concerns about teen homelessness, access to drugs and alcohol, and thoughts on climate change. There is also a catch-all question that asks what youth-related issues respondents would like to see a council address.

Levine said the idea for a council of young residents was suggested by City Manager Jon Jennings, who thought creating the panel would be a perfect project for the G20 team. She said this is the first year the city has participated in G20, which is a joint effort of the Youth and Community Engagement Department at the University of Southern Maine and Goodwill Northern New England.

The goal of the program, according to Levine, is to “better connect young people in the Portland area with meaningful, work-based learning opportunities where they can hone and develop a variety of in-demand 21st-century skills.”

She said Portland’s G20 team consists of rising seniors or new graduates from three public high schools and three public secondary schools. Levine said the team meets at City Hall four days a week.

“The G20 participants are particularly excited about the creation of a Youth Council because they view it as creating a vehicle for youth voices to be heard at the decision-making level,” she said.

Levine said the goal would be to meet at least three times a month and to have a member of the city staff act as an adviser. The term of service would run from September to May, or roughly the academic school year. While the G20 team has ideas for topics the Youth Council should tackle, she said specific issues would be decided upon by the council members.

While there are already several youth-focused, leadership-type groups operating in the city and across the state, Levine said the council would be different because its work would be “focused solely on Portland-area youth issues.” However, she said, the council also plans to work in concert with other youth groups “so that their work is collaborative, rather than duplicative.”

While this is the first summer that Portland has participated in the G20 program, Levine said the city created a Portland Youth Advisory Council 10 years ago that “ultimately resulted in a youth and community summit on a number of different topics of importance to youth at the time.

“Although that (body) was not maintained,” she said, “its mission of creating a vehicle for youth voices remains a driving factor in the Youth Council we are creating today.”

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