By Ka Leo O Nā ʻŌpio
Youth engagement in our democracy is critical to ensuring that our next generation of leaders are prepared to take the helm in the future. More importantly, it provides a platform in which ʻōpio are able to elevate their voices and make their concerns known to the leaders who are deliberating on decisions that will affect them in the future.
Efforts to include youth in key decision-making processes have finally started to take hold here in Hawaiʻi.
At the state level, the establishment of a statewide youth commission was championed by Hawaiʻi State Sen. Stanley Chang, and it was eventually codified into state statue in 2018. This commission advises the governor and legislature on the effects of legislative policies, needs, assessments, priorities, programs, and budgets concerning the youth of Hawaiʻi.
On Oʻahu, residents voted in November 2020 to approve the creation of the Honolulu Youth Commission, whose purpose is to provide youth on Oʻahu with a voice and presence in local government.
Consisting of 15 commissioners appointed by the Mayor and the Honolulu City Council, the Youth Commission provides youth ages 14-24 with the opportunity to serve their community in one of the most dynamic and engaging levels of public government.
Similar efforts are now underway for the youth of Maui, Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi. Currently, the Maui County Council is seeking applications for its new Youth Council. This advisory body, composed of local high school students, was formally established by Council Resolution 21-199 on Dec. 3, 2022.
This Youth Council is intended to ensure that the voices of young people “are heard in county government on important issues with long-term effects.” The resolution notes that youth leaders across Maui County have already taken steps to participate in civic affairs through activities like the Global Climate Strike and ʻImi Pono Challenge, inspiring all generations to be engaged.
Maui County Councilmember Kelly King and her staff will be advising this council as they learn about the county’s legislative process, develop rules for the Youth Council, solicit policy ideas from peers, draft policy proposals, defend and critique bills, meet in the Council Chamber and ultimately, transmit approved Youth Council policy recommendations to the Maui County Council.
“The Youth Council is one way our county can prepare our young people to address complex issues,” said King. “It will equip them with the skills needed to take action and overcome the feelings of hopelessness that have impacted some youth.”
Applications for the Maui Youth Council will be accepted until May 1, 2022. For more information or to apply, visit tinyurl.com/MauiCountyYouthCouncil.
Ka Leo O Nā ʻŌpio is a collaboration of individuals and organizations dedicated to promoting youth civic engagement across Hawaiʻi. For more information, visit www.kaleoonaopio.org.