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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — After going on hiatus due to the pandemic, the Marion Mayor Youth Council has returned to in-person meetings.
Council members come from Linn-Mar and Marion Independent high schools who meet with Marion Mayor Nick AbouAssaly to learn about city government, leadership and provide feedback on Marion issues
“I’m excited about seeing today’s group of young people move into leadership, not only in Marion but society in general,” AbouAssaly said. “They are much more open-minded, and they view the world differently. They have an amazing amount of talent and energy, and I draw energy from that.”
This school year's council, which had its first meeting earlier this month at Marion City Hall, includes about 30 students. The group meets Saturday mornings once a month.
Schools nominate students to the council, but AbouAssaly said any student who has an interest in joining can reach out to him through the city.
Marion senior Molly Schlitter has been on the advisory council since she was a sophomore.
“It’s been a good opportunity, and I’ve been able to meet lots of cool people and make connections,” she said.
Schlitter works as a lifeguard for the Marion municipal pool during the summer and also helps with events in the city’s parks and recreation program. She said it’s been helpful to learn what a city government does.
“We’ve been figuring out what the city is doing — different projects, learning about the different jobs and how decisions impact the city in the long term,” she said.
Schlitter said she appreciates the opportunity to be on the council because it allows a chance for youth voices to be heard.
“City leaders ask us a lot of things about what we like and what we would like to see since we are the future,” she said. “They want to know what we think works and what doesn’t work and how to gear things toward younger people.”
AbouAssaly said the idea for the youth council came during the city’s ImagiNEXT, a community visioning process that began as Imagin8 in 2009.
“I went to Vernon Middle School and was talking about ideas with student leaders, and I noticed there was a lack of understanding about how a city functions,” he said.
“Out of that, I developed a project that I did for a couple of years at Marion High School where I would talk with kids during lunch about Marion, their ideas, what it is they don’t like about Marion and what they would like to see done.”
After that, AbouAssaly decided he wanted to expand the conversations to both Marion high schools and formed the Youth Advisory Council in 2018.
“Growing up in Marion myself, there always seemed to be a divide between north and south Marion,” he said. “I wanted students to meet each other and work on leadership. I always tell them my hope is they will come back here someday as adults and use their talents and ideas to make Marion even better.”
How city operates
At the advisory council meetings, students meet hear from city and community leaders to learn about how the city operates. They give feedback on city projects and participate in team-building exercises while having conversations about issues.
“They learn that things just don’t happen,” AbouAssaly said. “Like the Seventh Ave streetscape project. That’s been a project in planning for over a decade, and it takes a lot of thought and coordination.
“Or when we put in a new roundabout. … it’s not because people thought it would look nice there. There’s engineering consultants and a lot of planning there.”
AbouAssaly plans on launching his second advisory council early next year — the Mayor’s Diversity Council.
The council will be separate from the Community Equity Task Force, whose members were appointed by the city.
“A lot of the experience of people being treated fairly and being valued goes beyond their interaction with the government,” AbouAssaly said. “It’s in the community, so a lot of work needs to happen in the community through education, interaction. … The city can have perfect policies, but it doesn’t change mindsets or hearts in the community.”
AbouAssaly said the council’s goal is to bring people of various backgrounds together and come up with ideas of how Marion can celebrate diversity and educate the community about equity.
“It could be education, it could be events — the possibilities are limitless to what the group could do,” AbouAssaly said.
AbouAssaly said he thinks the strengths of advisory councils are multifaceted.
“It’s another way for me to engage with people in the community,” he said. “It also gives residents opportunities to have their voices heard, and it makes them a part of Marion’s progress.
“As we experience a lot of growth and change, it’s important to me to make people have a role in that and help shape where our city is going.”
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