Leesville Mayor’s Youth Council back in action

By Emily Burleigh

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Rick Allen and the Leesville City Council have sworn in new members for the Mayor’s Youth council.

The Mayor’s Youth Council is an opportunity for 10th- to 12th-grade students from Leesville High School to participate in municipal and community activities and events. During their time on the youth council, these students learn the ins and outs of local government — and the important role that the mayor’s office plays.

The youth council was put on hiatus during the pandemic due to public health safety concerns, but has been reinstated for the 2023-24 school year. This year, there are 11 members on the council: Ja’Kira Acevedo, Izaiah Farley, Sasha Gaston, McKenzie Harris, Jaelyn Hood, Hailee Jeane, Joshua Johnson, Sachi Patel, Aaliyah Smith, Charleigh Travis and Allie Wittenhagen.

Allen said it was important to him the students take their oath during a City Council meeting so they know they have the city’s support.

“I want you to know that this City Council and I appreciate everything you have done and will do in the future. You are our future, and we intend to invest in you. We intend to support you in every way that we possibly can.”

When sworn in, the students take an oath to not only follow the laws of the United States, state of Louisiana and city of Leesville, but also to act with patience, kindness and camaraderie. The focus on a virtuous attitude is a new addition to the oath, Allen said.

“I wanted it to say what we really want you to do. Things that matter.”

At the meeting, he announced the youth council will have a new office housed in the new Leesville Event Center. The members of the youth council will be given keys and the freedom to utilize the space in any way they see fit.

“It will be something that you can be proud of, and something that you can take ownership of. We want you to not just go out and pick up trash on citywide cleanup day, we want to involve you in things that matter.”

He said the city has entered an agreement with the Kingdom Center — a local youth outreach program that provides local teens with mentorship, tutoring, career counseling and recreational activities. The Kingdom Center will be housed in the Leesville Event Center facilities, equipped with an indoor basketball court and gaming spaces.

In conjunction with the Kingdom Center, the youth council will volunteer their time to assist in programming. Allen said students on the youth council will be able to provide unique forms of assistance for students in the Kingdom Center’s programs.

“You’re here for a reason, but you’re the best of the best. You can help people, and young people that are your age, and you can connect with them in a way that we can’t.”

City Council member Alice Guess, member-at-large, previously served as the sponsor for the youth council before she retired from her career in education six years ago. At the meeting, she encouraged the youth council members to plan for the future, and to “continue to do the right thing and be a leader.”

“One day, we’re all going to be retired, and seasoned, and you all may be the ones sitting up here and running the city,” Guess said.

Vernon Parish School Board teacher advocate Trevor Peters and Staci Stipe of the Mayor’s Women’s Commission are sponsoring the youth council for the 2023-24 school year.

The Mayor’s Women’s Commission will also be given an office space, in addition to storage space, at the new event center.

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