The Biddeford Youth Advisory Council was sworn in at the Biddeford City Council meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 6. The group completed orientation training before the swearing in. From left are, Hannah McCurry, Brittany Baumgardner, Abigail Gosselin, Rebecca Hatt and Lily Melton. COURTESY PHOTO/Danica Lamontagne

BIDDEFORD — The newly-formed Biddeford Youth Advisory Council, made up of students in grades 9 to 12, was sworn in during the Biddeford City Council meeting on Aug. 6.

The five young peoplel spent the afternoon prior to the meeting doing some team-building exercises and learning about what leadership involves, said Danica Lamontagne, Biddeford’s communications coordinator and founder of the group.

The youth council is made up of high school students, with members Brittany Baumgardner, Hannah McCurry, Abigail Gosselin and Rebecca Hatt in ninth grade and Lily Melton in 12th grade.

McCurry said that she hopes this council will inspire more students her age to get involved in city government and issues.

“My grandfather is in the  (city) council so I kind of grew up learning about it,” McCurry said. “So this opportunity that came across — I actually wanted to do it because it’s not just following in my grandfather’s footsteps. It’s actually bringing in a change that we need to see. I feel like once our peers see there are kids doing this, there will be more people who follow our actions.”

Some examples of the issues the group said they want to see improve over this year involve public health, the environment and a safer school district.

“This might not be true in some parts, but around where I live, Biddeford doesn’t seem to take care of its cemeteries and parks,” Gosselin said. “I’d like to see some of Biddeford’s public areas get cleaned up.”

Baumgardner said she wants to help the city’s waste and recycling programs.

“A problem that I really want to fix with this program is the health of Biddeford, so we’ve got problems with the recycling and trash programs, and that’s what I want to help fix,” she said. “My overall goal is just seeing one thing change. Even if it’s just the smallest change — just seeing that would be great.”

Public image was a topic that the council was most enthusiastic about.

“I feel like we as citizens in Biddeford should be proud to be living here,” McCurry said, mentioning that her peers at school will refer to the city as a “Biddo.”

“I think sometimes if we’re the ones saying those (negative) things about ourselves, then that’s what other communities are hearing,” Lamontage said.

Some of the group members have already been involved in community service programs and clubs.

“I’m really focused on helping low-income people in this community, especially women,” Hatt said. “I have a project that’s called Project Confidence where I provide free feminine products through the free food distribution at the Kindergarten Center. So it’s whatever I can do to help Biddeford and just make it better.”

Melton said that she’s been involved in a few clubs at the high school, from volunteering her time to playing hockey.

“I’ve been a member of Interact at my school,” she said. “In Interact we volunteer for different things. So once a month we volunteer at the soup kitchen. It’s basically a youth version of the Rotary Club. We do stuff at the rec program, too.”

The youth advisory council said that they hope to be taken seriously by older members of city government and the community.

“Well, at least from my perspective of being a kid, people think we’re just kids, so we don’t know anything about our government or our city,” McCurry said. “But we’re actually giving a newer perspective.”

The students also talked about what they believe Biddeford has been doing right, an example being attracting new businesses that have been opening up downtown.

My favorite part of Biddeford is how much downtown has grown,” Baumgardner said. “’Cause I remember City Theater being an abandoned ghost town when I was younger. Now you can go in there and there are dance recitals and plays.”

Gosselin said that she thinks that new businesses will bring in more jobs for the next generation of Biddeford residents.

“My favorite thing in the community is how we look out for one another,” McCurry said. “If we know something’s wrong, we’ll say something. It’s a very close community.”

During the group’s team dinner, right before the City Council meeting, Lamontagne told the group to be prepared for any unexpected challenges.

“We don’t know what’s really going to happen with this,” she said. “We might hit a roadblock, and I hope we don’t. You guys are just looking to make the community a better place.”

Lamontagne said in an email that the regular once-a-month meetings will begin in September.

— Catherine Bart can be reached at [email protected] or 780-9029.

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