Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Group trains youth to lead city

Thirty years ago Katie Trippi became one of the first women to run for mayor of Evanston – and she was still in high school.

She was participating in the McGaw YMCA’s City Youth and Government program, which teaches teenagers about Evanston’s city government and culminates in a mock City Council meeting.

Interest in the program faded after its heyday in the 70s. Now it’s coming back just as the Evanston City Council makes youth involvement in local government one of Evanston’s strategic planning goals.

“The youth will one day be in charge,” Ald. Delores Holmes (5th) said. “This would help prepare them for that.”

The City Council is preparing its strategic plan for the city, outlining the 14 big-picture issues aldermen want Evanston to focus on.

Evanston’s strategic plan

Goal #1: Develop and implement economic development strategies to create a strong and diverse economy for Evanston.

Goal #2: Create policies and programs that result in a well-maintained, diverse housing stock.

Goal #3: Attract and develop businesses that create skilled trade and vocational opportunities.

Goal #4: Create and maintain functionally appropriate, high-quality infrastructure and facilities.

Goal #5: Protect and optimize the city’s natural resources with the Evanston leading by example – a green city with green behaviors.

Goal #6: Ensure that Evanston neighborhoods are safe, clean, attractive and economically viable, and that their unique needs are responded to effectively and efficiently after actively sharing their thoughts, plans and ideas, utilizing neighborhood resources as much as possible.

Goal #7: Provide youth with the opportunity to participate and work with the City Council, City Government, boards and commissions.

Goal #8: Leverage

transportation resources to provide an improved system that is integrated, responsive, understandable, efficient and meets the needs of all citizens.

Goal #9: Leverage local education resources to provide an improved system that will generate market-driven job skills for Evanston residents.

Goal #10: Create a collaborative, reciprocal relationship with Northwestern.

Goal #11: Create a collaborative and productive relationship with the schools, hospitals, business organizations, not-for-profit groups and government.

Goal #12: Recruit, train and develop the most qualified individuals for all city departments.

Goal #13: Determine the appropriateness of existing boards and commissions.

Goal #14: Give outstanding service to Evanston citizens and internal customers.

Holmes said the reason to seek youth involvement is simple.

“They’re different,” she said.

And they have ideas.

“I’m sick and tired of always asking my parents stuff,” said 15-year-old Evanston Township High School student Jeffrey Daniels. “I would have an opinion.”

Daniels does not participate in the YMCA program. When asked, Daniels was slow to come up with ideas for the council at first. But the more he thought about it, the more ideas he had: Teenagers can’t handle bus fares, Evanston lacks hangouts for teenagers and stores mistreat minors, he said.

ETHS students Kate and Hayley Ward, 15-year-old sisters who also do not participate in the program, said learning about the city government would help spur interest.

“If people knew more about it, I’m sure they’d be more involved,” Hayley Ward said.

Two of the best ways to encourage teen involvement are youth councils and summits where the the mayor, aldermen and city staff talk regularly with teenagers, said Rebecca Makar, Program Associate with the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education and Families.

The organization publishes literature and provides support for cities seeking to increase teen involvement in city government.

“Young people feel they don’t have a voice,” she said.

Once the infrastructure is in place, teenagers are surprisingly eager to be heard and they know what they want, but creating an effective relationship requires work, Makar said.

Cities often face challenges in attracting a diverse group of students.

“Those same kids will do everything, the honor-roll students and their friends,” Makar said. “Teachers and community organizations will know some of the kids who have skills but haven’t had the chance to work as the head of an organization.”

Makar said cities also need to make sure they genuinely seek student opinion. If the city holds a youth summit but sets the agenda ahead of time, they limit teenage input, she said.

“It’s not really effective for an adult group to get together and say this is what the agenda for the youth summit is going to be,” she said.

The city should reach out by working with local groups already established, Makar said.

The YMCA’s 9-week program for ninth through eleventh grade students is a start. When Trippi participated in the 1970s, about 60 students enrolled in the program. Now she oversees the program as the YMCA Director of Youth and Family Services. Enrollment is rising, with an anticipated increase from about 15 participants in the last session to an anticipated 20 in the one starting in February.

She attributed renewed involvement to the Iraq War increasing political awareness.

“The kids learn to be effective activists and how to effect change,” Trippi said.

The group of teenagers meet with the mayor, aldermen, city government staff and activists. They learn parliamentary procedure and take the role of a city official for ordinances. Several of those ordinances reflect concerns the aldermen discuss on their own, such as one concerning leaf blowers. Then the teenagers take to the Evanston Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave., and hold their own committees and City Council meeting.

“We take over City Council,” Trippi said.

The teens leave the program with a better understanding of city government and how they can make a difference.

“This was the program where it dawned on me that elected officials aren’t any smarter than the rest of us,” Trippi said of her own time as an alderman and as a city clerk in the program. “They just make the effort. I realized I could do this. Regular people could do this.”

Reach Elizabeth Gibson at

[email protected].

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Group trains youth to lead city