Voices for the future

The Oro Valley youth Advisory Council meeting at Oro Valley City Hall.

About the Oro Valley Youth Advisory Council
Five years ago, the Town of Oro Valley created the Youth Advisory Council to give Oro Valley high schoolers a voice in government and town planning.The council is comprised of twenty youth advocates from Oro Valley High Schools. Members submit an application and go through an interview process. If selected they agree to a two-year term. The group is working to bridge gaps in the Oro Valley community, create and participate in effective community service projects, and serve as a voice
for youth in the Town of Oro Valley. According to the latest census, there are nearly as many OV residents under the age of 18 as there are residents over the age of 65. The town wants to empower our youth’s vision for the future, listen to their ideas and help them make a difference in their community.

By Katie Frye,
Oro Valley Youth Advisory Council Member

The Oro Valley Youth Advisory Council (YAC) has been active in numerous community projects in addition to launching its own successful events. Most popular are the Teen Dive-In Movie Nights, which encourages the teens of Oro Valley to escape the hot summer sun by playing water polo and watching the newest movies at the OV Aquatic Center. In previous years, YAC has boasted over 150 attendees to its Dive-In Nights, and BBQ Field Day comes in a close second. Taking place in early April, the BBQ Field Day provides youth an opportunity to gather for group sports and games before entering the dreariness of finals. As one member expressed, these events are our way of “serving a community that has given us so much.”

Besides rallying together Oro Valley’s teen, YAC is an avid participant in the lives of its elderly residents. Monthly, its members visit Catalina Springs, an Alzheimer’s and Dementia care facility. YAC and the residents have created artwork together that was sold through the Alzheimer’s Association to fund research on memory loss. The cleverly named “Senior Prom” is another popular event, where the councilmembers decorate the facility and dance with the residents. Through our interactions, many of us have forged lasting connections. A former member of the council recounted how she bonded with a resident, viewing her almost as a second grandmother, and how the woman’s face would light up with recognition upon seeing her.

Recently YAC completed a daunting but triumphant program, Music and Memory, which introduced music back into the lives of those who have challenges with their memory. Youth members interviewed residents about his or her taste in music, then downloaded those songs onto individual iPods which were presented to them.

Many of us learned fascinating tales about their lives during the interviews. Personally, I interviewed an extraordinary woman, Thelma, who was born in 1919, and it was like peering into the face of a history book.

The music enabled memories locked away by Alzheimer’s to resurface, and it was poignant watching the residents sing with tears glistening in their eyes. Given our success, we hope to expand the program to surrounding care facilities, granting those suffering from memory loss another chance.

Beyond our work with care facilities, YAC has introduced programs teaching the community how to operate their electronics. Dubbed “Senior Tech” but open to anyone, the classes occur at the Oro Valley library, covering a variety of topics and technologies, from Gmail to iPhone basics. The program is expanding to assist the senior residents at Fairwinds Desert Point. One youth member describes her passion “I have always been interested in working in the tech field, so I was really excited to have the opportunity to help out the community.”

For the first time in the history of the Town, YAC was granted the chance to work with Town councilmembers and other local leaders in constructing a general plan for Oro Valley’s future. YAC represented youth input for improving the town, and many of our members served on Your Voice, Our Future committees. The plan was established to guide the future of the Town for the next ten years, and with YAC’s involvement, teenagers were able to share their opinions on how they hope to see an expansion of recreational and cultural activities. Upon ratification of the plan, one YAC member expressed his satisfaction “I feel like my voice is being heard, and I can positively impact my community.”

To further strengthen the voice of teenagers, the Town assigned YAC the task of creating a name for the new park located near the Encantada Apartments north of Steam Pump Ranch. In May 2016 the Youth Advisory Council named Oro Valley’s new park Tho’ag, to pay homage to the Tohono O’Odham peoples who are indigenous to the area. The name translates to “mountain,” and it was chosen as the park features a view of the beautiful Catalina mountains.
YAC’s most recent activity has been with the implementation and education of the Distracted Driving Ordinance. Even the youths who are practically born with an iPhone in their hands recognize the value of this safety measure. An OV police officer attended one of our monthly meetings and instructed us on the details of the new law. We are taking this message and spreading it to our respective schools and fellow students to ensure that we all abide by the new ordinance. In an endeavor to spread this information beyond Oro Valley, YAC has partnered with Sauherita’s own Youth Advisory Council to present to both jurisdictions a public service announcement on the issue.

The Youth Advisory Council is entering its sixth year as a successful organization headed by local teens. We have gained leadership skills in fundraising and organizing programs such as Teen Dive-In Nights, as well as knowledge about teamwork, and local government procedures. Our president commended our achievements, “YAC has allowed us to work as part of a team and I feel that as a whole we have been successful representatives for the youth of Oro Valley.” One member mentioned that she “doesn’t know what to expect in the future, but the best part about YAC is its versatility.”
We hope to see it expand and grow, and that the future YAC will continue our legacy of charitable work, and exert a greater presence in the town we call home.