WATERLOO — A group of students gathered at the Waterloo Center for the Arts Friday learned some important lessons, all with the help of a rubber chicken.
The more than 20 teenagers broke into small groups and tossed around a variety of rubber animals — including a chicken, pig and duck — plus a number of balls. They had to throw an object around the circle in a set order without dropping it, calling out the next person’s name while making the toss. Once they mastered that, another item was added until each group was “juggling” seven objects.
Being successful, the students said, took communication, cooperation, and trust.
Carol Luce, an organizer of the Waterloo Youth City Council, said those skills could help them address issues faced by young people.
The newly-formed youth council was holding its first meeting Friday. The group’s mission is “to explore, communicate and provide for the needs, problems, issues and activities affecting Waterloo’s youth.” It is made up of 28 sophomores through seniors drawn from all parts of the city and representing four high schools.
“When you’re working on an issue it may be challenging,” Luce told the students. “You’re going to need to depend on one another.”
Students, who had to submit an application, represent Columbus Catholic, East, Expo Alternative, and West high schools. Their home addresses are spread out across the city’s five wards, based on the thumb tack each put in a city map when arriving for the meeting. Two of them even live outside of the city’s borders.
The group is an initiative of Mayor Quentin Hart. Along with Luce, community volunteer Jim Day has been heading up the effort with the help of advisers from the schools.
“This is your opportunity to represent the youths of Waterloo the way you want to,” said Day.
“I want you to have an opportunity to say we were involved, we were engaged and we made a difference,” added Hart. “This is all about all of you.”
When she got accepted into the youth council, Laura McCarthy said, “I thought this would be a really good experience. I don’t know what I want to do when I get older,” the Columbus junior admitted. However, she hopes to “help my community as much as I can,” and the youth council is a start.
Sammi Wei, a sophomore at West, suggested the youth council could also help students in the eyes of the community.
“I feel like we get a really bad rap,” she said. “We’re thought of as less. I want to change that notion a little bit.”
Council members Margaret Klein and Sharon Juon observed at least part of the meeting, as did state Rep. Timi Brown-Powers. She described the initiative as exciting.
“I’m asking you guys please step up and be a leader,” Brown-Powers said, noting the current crop of elected leaders is “all getting older. We’ve got lots of areas in Waterloo where we need your brains, your strength and your energy.”
The meeting, with its team-building activities, was not what Rayvon Gary expected.
“It’s a good kind of unexpected,” said the East sophomore. “It honestly is kind of fun.”
Students were just getting acquainted Friday, though. They will be asked to do some of the hard work that Luce and the others were talking about.
Eventually, the students living in each ward will elect one person to serve on an executive committee, which will also include two at-large members. Other committees will be formulated, as well, built around areas of interest or concern for the students.
Luce explained that meetings will be set with an agenda and governed by Roberts’ rules of order, just like the Waterloo City Council. Students were given an overview of city government by Waterloo’s communications director. The students are invited to attend the Jan. 7 council meeting, where they will be introduced and sworn in.
Kale Smith, an Expo sophomore, liked how the youth council brings together students who often think in terms of sports team rivalries.
“Having all schools come together, it’s just a really nice environment,” he said. “We can work together and make it so the students have a voice.”
Syleena Swason noted that she always has an opinion to share but never really felt like she had a voice growing up.
The Columbus sophomore sees this as an opportunity for those “who want to have a say in big decisions. Teenagers finally get a voice in the way we can change our city.”