During my time on City Council, I have had the pleasure of serving as the council liaison for the City of Edmonton Youth Council (CEYC). The Youth Council is tasked with providing a youth perspective on municipal issues as well as helping create a community amongst young Edmontonians. The council is made up of 20 Edmonton youth, aged 13-23, who come from a variety of walks of life. The CEYC has been influential in the creation of initiatives such as the Edmonton Youth Poet Laureate, Vote16, Ticket to Ride, and much more.
Going to the CEYC meetings every month has been a real highlight of my terms on Council. The members of Youth Council have so much energy and spirit, it makes me optimistic for the future of Edmonton. Not only does the CEYC showcase the amazing young citizens of Edmonton, but they also provide me with meaningful advice on topics which are discussed at council. The CEYC meetings are open to the public and I encourage anyone interested in getting involved with the CEYC or learning more about issues affecting Edmonton youth to attend. The Youth Council also has several committees that folks can get involved with, including Engagement and Outreach, Health and Wellness, Social Equity, and Urban Planning.
Genna DiPinto is one of the Youth Council’s amazing volunteers. She has served on the CEYC for three years, including as Chair for the last two. I asked Genna a few questions about her time on the CEYC that I wanted to share!
Question: What issues do you think are important to Edmonton youth today?
Genna’s Answer: I think every issue is important to young people. To say that young people care, or should only care about certain areas of civic life is to say that only some issues impact young people — which is certainly not the case. Every issue and the decision-making surrounding it impacts all members of society, the only distinction is how direct or indirect those impacts are, depending on the issue, and depending on the group being discussed. For young people, some of the most pertinent issues might include mental health, the importance of social equity, sustainable employment opportunities and affordable housing — all of which may be inextricably linked. I also think living in a city with vibrant culture and a variety of things to do and explore matters to young Edmontonians.
Question: What advice would you give to other young Edmontonians in getting involved with their city/community?
Genna’s Answer: Before a young person decides to get involved, they have to first come to the realization that their voice matters and that they actually can make an impact on their community. So my first piece of advice would be to make these acknowledgements of yourself. The second piece of advice I would give is, don’t wait for someone to ask you what you think, because even in times where you may get ‘a seat at the table’, you may not be offered an opportunity to speak, which leads to the same result as if you were never seated at that table in the first place. Don’t be afraid to go out of your way to challenge old ideas and put forward new ones.
Question: Why does a youth perspective matter?
Genna’s Answer: Why doesn’t a youth perspective matter? Young Edmontonians are citizens of this city just as older Edmontonians are. They eat, work, study, commute and play in our city just like anyone else. Why shouldn’t they be heard? I think a shift in people’s thinking is beginning where they see that arguments against including young people in decision-making don’t make sense. There are people of all ages who are uninformed, just as there are people of all ages who are very informed. There are people of all ages who are apathetic, just as there are people of all ages who aren’t. We need to see young people as full citizens (just like members any other age demographic) who have a stake in the development of our city and country, and a right to partake in the decision-making that will affect our future.
Working with Genna as the Chair of the CEYC for the past two years has been great. The members of youth council not only provide me with a needed youth perspective, but they also challenge me to dig into my pre-existing ideas to ensure they are the best they can be. Throughout my time as the Council liaison to Youth Council, I have also been confronted with many stereotypes about young people. These include that young people don’t pay taxes, have any responsibility, or understand serious topics. From working with Edmonton youth over the past few years I have come to understand that those stereotypes couldn’t be farther from the truth. Edmonton is home to many diverse young people that experience a wide variety of issues – ranging from young parenthood, homelessness, and education affordability. I have met many exceptionally talented young people who have overcoming obstacles and are dedicated to their communities. The Youth Council has also shown outstanding commitment to inclusivity in the time I have spent with them. Between fighting for the inclusion of LGBTQ2s+ youth in 2014 to ensuring they appoint people to the council in a fair and transparent way – they are leaders in making Edmonton an inclusive place for youth from all walks of life.
Not everyone knows this, but when I first ran for City Council I was in my mid twenties. Even though Edmonton has one of the youngest averages ages of a major city in Canada, elected officials typically tended to be upwards of 50 years old. Now into my second term, it is amazing to see more young people run and get elected to public office – as well as become engaged in their local governments through other means. The Youth Council serves as a constant reminder that young people have a critical voice that needs to be considered in city building decisions. One of the aspects of Youth Council I appreciate the most is their ability to fearlessly take on big issues. They have often provided myself and Council with bold suggestions or ideas that would have otherwise not come to our attention. The Youth Council serves as a reminder to all members of our city that we must always strive to push further and aspire for progress, in order to best serve our community. Our young people have a vision for Edmonton’s vibrant future and I am proud whenever a young Edmontonian tells me that this is an exciting place to call home because of the growth and opportunity in our city.
Written by A. Knack and M. Banister, with contributions from G. DiPinto.