By John Swartz
Soon the Orillia Youth Opportunities Committee will be no more. The City of Orillia’s effort to provide some service to, initially disadvantaged, youth goes back to the late 90s. A youth center was established and a committee of interested people helped get it up and running. Then council established a formal committee of council, the OYOC, which served as a management board. That function changed over the last few years to be an advisory board with the youth center, which became more of a department of administration.
Tonight at the regular council meeting, a measure to support in principal will likely be passed and by June 2020 a new regime change will be complete. It’s revolutionary really, not in a mutinous way, but a transformation to a committee devised to tackle issue of importance to youth by youth.
The new committee is going to be called the Sunshine Youth Senate. A current member of the OYOC, Kevin Lehman, couldn’t be happier. He joined the OYOC 6 years ago and right away thought something was off.
“I was shocked to find out there was no youth on the youth committee” Lehman said. So he did something about it.
“We started talking then about the fact that if the youth were going to be heard in this city, then they need to have a platform to do so. The Youth Opportunities Committee was fantastic in supporting that. We formed a working group and everybody was agreed if it was going to happen it should be put together by the youth’s themselves,” Lehman said.
At City Hall, the ball started rolling in February 2017 when councillor Jeff Clark moved a motion to have the director of Youth Opportunities, Kevin Gangloff, report to establish a youth council. Clark was on the OYOC at the time with Lehman. Gangloff reported back in July 2017 with particulars of the rules of engagement and objectives of a working committee, which council accepted.
Between then and now, the committee engaged Joletta Thompson, a teacher at Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School as an advisor to a committee composed of youths who were going to get all the ducks in a row for what happened at council last week.
“While she mentored them, she never influenced them. Everything that happened today, they wrote a framework and a by-law that was totally there’s. It’s mind-blowing how good it was,” said Lehman. The committee had some other help.
“They asked us to bring in professionals. We brought in Tim Timpano, a lawyer expert in committee law, Robin Cadeaux came in from the City of Orillia and explained the existing by-laws for most of the committees and sub-committees in the city. Then we stood back and let them make it their own,” Lehman said.
The current chair of OYOC, Hazel O’Brien, introduced the report and recapped some of the back story for council, then it was turned over to Anner Yep and Noah Stong, two Patrick Fogarty students from the committee.
After they outlined what a by-law would do and how it would work, Yep told council they believe a couple issues they would tackle immediate are homelessness (which has a number of related issues tied to it, mental health for example), academic help for students falling behind and access to the Orillia Public Library.
For Yep the latter is an issue she can identify with, she lives in Ramara, but attends school in Orillia. She can go to the library any time, but using some of the facilities, like computers, she can’t do without a library card.
“Not without paying over $100 dollars.” Yep told SUNonline/Orillia.
Stong is also from Ramara and agreed that is an issue for students from Ramara Township because unlike Severn and Oro-Medonte, Ramara does not annually contribute to the OLP’s operating budget.
They presented council with a draft in by-law form of how the senate would composed and operate. It looks just like any of the by-laws governing other committees of council, with some differences. Staff will return a by-law for council to adopt in coming weeks. In short, the senate will function just as any other committee like the environmental advisory or waste management advisory committees. Lehman was philosophical with his view of how the senate will operate.
“It’s a little different from those other committees in they are going to bring a totally different voice to council, who have, quite often a very different skew on matters. They haven’t been ‘corrupted’ let’s say, by inaction and things like that. They’re going to have ideas they want to run with and in their naivety they are not going to let anything stop them,” Lehman said.
The senate will be made up of 11 students, three of whom must be elementary Grade 7 or 8 students, who will serve renewable one year terms coinciding with the school year. There will be two additional non-voting members, ideally university or college students (but until then will be two members from the existing OYOC) and the director of the youth center, also non-voting. Committee members do not have to live in the city, but must attend school in Orillia.
(Photo by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia) Noah Stong and Ammer Yep.