Foster City Gives Youth an Advisory Role and a Voice
Located along San Francisco Bay on the peninsula between San Francisco and San Jose, Foster City is a growing community of 28,803 residents, offering the benefits of metropolitan living with small town, neighborly appeal.
However, life in Foster City is not without its challenges. Many parents endure long commutes and juggle transporting children to after-school activities with chores and errands. As the city’s population increases, so does the need for more recreation programs, particularly for younger residents.
Foster City’s Parks and Recreation Department staff searched for a way to provide teen activities that would foster creativity as well as enhance personal growth and social development in a safe environment. After extensive discussion and research, the Foster City Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) was created. The idea was to give teens something to do after school that would engage them in the community and give them a voice. With 30 ap-pointed members, the YAC was created to serve as a resource for the city council, city staff and other citizen committees on issues related to youth.
To be eligible to serve on the committee, applicants must be residents of Foster City and attend middle school or high school during their term. Prospective committee members complete an application form with questions that focus on the applicant’s involvement in school and community activities. Once selected, applicants are interviewed and then officially appointed by the city council. The Parks and Recreation Department’s teen coordinator is the staff liaison and oversees the YAC, and a city council member serves as a liaison between the council and committee.
Community Work Provides Multiple Benefits
In addition to holding special events designated for their peers, the YAC is involved with a number of Foster City’s community-sponsored events, such as a spaghetti feed fund-raising dinner for a local charity chosen by the youths. Committee members work with local businesses and community organizations to obtain food and raffle prize donations and find local entertainment. Doing all the hands-on work for the event empowers teens and gives them an opportunity to do humanitarian work with many members of the community, thereby making a difference. In the course of planning and implementing the event, the teens also earn the appreciation of community leaders and other adults.
YAC members begin each school year by planning and constructing a haunted house at the city’s very popular annual Halloween Festival. Committee members also volunteer as Santa’s helpers each December during the city’s annual tree lighting ceremony. During the holiday season, YAC members prepare and serve meals at a local soup kitchen and sponsor families in need through a Holiday Family Share Program.
The YAC provides many opportunities for teens to become involved in community service and leadership development. The fact that teens are having fun together while engaging in worthwhile activities is evident in the increasing numbers of new and returning members each year.
Getting Youth Into City Government
YAC members enjoy the support and presence of the city council members and other city staff at the many events where the youth are volunteering. In addition, two programs that foster great involvement for the YAC members in city government are the Youth Summit and Youth in Government Day, which are co-sponsored by the city and Foster City Rotary Club. The objective of both events is to provide youth with enriching and educational opportunities outside of school. At the Youth Summit, local middle school students participate in various teen-interest workshops facilitated by professionals from local organizations. The purpose of Youth in Government Day is to teach Foster City teens about municipal government and civic affairs by shadowing city staff and Rotary members during their work day. These events empower young people with the knowledge and resources to become tomorrow’s successful leaders.
By participating in the Foster City YAC, not only do young people become educated about how local government runs, they also have the opportunity to model what they observe. A desired outcome was to help strengthen relationships between youth, city staff and other adults in the community. With their involvement in local government, YAC members learn how collaborative efforts between cities and other agencies can make a lasting impact on a community.
Another desired outcome of the YAC is to encourage youth to develop a sense of responsibility. By participating on the committee, young people develop professional skills and gain a positive self-regard. YAC members often implement their own ideas for events and projects. Knowing that they can make a difference in their community increases their self-esteem, social and personal responsibility, and sense of purpose.
The Foster City Parks and Recreation Department is firmly committed to promoting the importance of youth involvement, and the YAC helps achieve this goal. Through this program, local teens come together to invest in and honor their community; build relationships with city officials, teens and other members of the community; and provide a voice for teens in Foster City.
Contact: Tiffany J. Hall, recreation coordinator, Foster City Parks and Recreation Department; phone: (650) 286-3395; e-mail: THall@fostercity.org.
This article appears in the August 2006 issue of Western
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