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Adrian Mayor Gary McDowell Talks About Youth Engagement

Location: Southeast Michigan
Population: 21,574

gary mcdowellMayor McDowell, president of the Michigan Association of Mayors, sat down with Michigan Recreation and Parks Association (MRPA) to discuss youth engagement, the importance of youth councils, and his advice for municipal leaders looking to start their own youth councils. Mayor McDowell played an integral role in the creation of Adrian’s Mayor’s Youth Council and assisted the group in the planning and hosting of the 2009 Michigan Youth Symposium held at Siena Heights University in Adrian.

Read on for excerpts of the interview, and visit to view an extended video of the interview.

MRPA: Why do you think it is important for municipalities to have youth or teen councils?

Mayor Gary McDowell: I think that the youth of today are an instrumental part of how we work our way out of the problems that we have in our society, particularly the economic problems. They have such refreshing ideas about what needs to be done, they are very creative, they think out of the box, and it’s an inspiration to come to a youth council meeting and sit and listen to them deal with the issues that are before them. I am inspired by that and I try to encourage it in any way that I can.
Youth councils are organizations through which teens can play an active role in local government, community building and volunteerism.

Team 21 kids

Mayor Gary McDowell and his wife networking
with Jeff Jenks, mayor pro tem of Huntington Woods and immediate past president of the League.

MRPA: What benefits do you believe the Mayor's Youth Council provides to the Adrian community?

Mayor Gary McDowell: Our current youth council has done a number of things to benefit our greater community. Last fall, they took on the project of going to third and fifth grade classes, providing workbooks and talking about the election, to make sure that these young kids understood that we had a very significant event taking place in our country. They had tremendous dialogue with the young kids about the entire process. It was a great contribution to our school system here in Adrian.

The youth council has been working very hard on the Youth Symposium, while at the same time developing an art contest for area youth. It was an effort that dealt with photography, drawings, paintings and 3D art. The council sponsored the art contest, and the top three would earn an award, but the piece of art had to be auctioned off, with the money raised to go to homeless kids, boys and girls clubs, and the teen centers in the local library. So I would certainly say that they have also contributed financially to the community, and they have been very much involved.

MRPA: How do you as a mayor and community leader promote involvement with the youth council?

Mayor Gary McDowell: We try to work very, very closely with the media in our city about our activities. Many of our members have been on numerous radio programs talking about the activities of the Mayor’s Youth Council. They have covered many of our activities in the local newspaper and we are very much in tune with promotion. We understand that the youth have much to say about where we are [as a community] and it’s a significant conversation that we have with them about our situation. In this crucial time in our country, with the economy being what it is, it’s amazing how they play an important role in figuring out what we can do about it, and ways that we can help alleviate this problem.

MRPA: What advice would you give to community leaders who are interested in starting a youth or teen council in their area?

Mayor Gary McDowell: I would encourage them with a lot of gusto, because as I’ve said, the youth council is a very integral part of what we’re doing, and we are certainly seeing the benefits of incorporating youth into our decision-making process. Our city commission is very supportive and has given money to the budget so that we can conduct this youth council, and allow them to play these roles in our community and help give a youth perspective. After all, it is the youth in our community that we want to keep in our community after they are done with school; it’s the youth that are going to be the leaders in our communities at some point in the future, and to not integrate them at this point is a mistake in my view. I would encourage other communities to recognize the importance of incorporating the youth into much of the planning that they do in the city government side.

Youth Symposium Gives Voice to Michigan’s Teen Leaders

The Adrian Mayor’s Youth Council came up with the 2009 symposium’s theme, “The Power of Community.” The symposium “is an opportunity for youth to experience a leadership role,” said Mayor McDowell. “It’s very rewarding to see kids who are at first reluctant to speak up transform into leaders that have the confidence to share their great ideas.”
The first Youth Symposium, in 2002, was a one-day event that brought together city managers, mayors, park professionals, and youth councils to help municipalities start councils of their own.

The benefits of youth councils extend not only to the teen participants but to the surrounding community as well. The organizations provide a venue for team building, civic engagement and leadership development for participants and also contribute greatly to municipalities. For example, teen councils host fundraising events and activities for local teens. In addition, councils frequently volunteer their time to facilitate activities run through municipalities and community organizations.


Mayor McDowell’s interview and the "Youth Symposium Gives Voice to Michigan’s Teen Leaders" excerpts were published with permission from MRPA PROfessional • Summer 2009.



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