A handful of youth addressed what they believe to be some of the town’s most pressing issues last week.
The Cochrane Youth Council held a special meeting and dinner with the mayor and a few councillors on Dec. 14 and among the topics discussed were mental health, community engagement, public transportation and even traffic problems.
Town representatives in attendance included Mayor Jeff Genung, councillors Patrick Wilson, Marni Fedeyko, Susan Flowers and Brenda Dennis, volunteer services and community programmer with the town.
Hanna Sharp and Nichole Bibaud, both graduates, are two of the group’s eldest members, said that while there are several concerns they would like to tackle, above all, they would like to see a mental wellness facility or room specifically designed for youth.
“As soon as you’re 18, you’re not allowed to get help from certain places, ” Bibaud said, referencing the resources students once looked to within high schools become out of reach upon graduating and if not registered in university or college, a counsellor is tougher to come by.
Sharp echoed these concerns and said that she would like to see more volunteer opportunities in town for youth. Each noted they were impressed that Cochrane council came to hear their input.
“I think that it’s amazing how we can actually make a difference and how they care about what we have to say, ” Sharp said.
“They actually listened to what we had to bring up and had something to say about it. It was really nice, ” Bibaud added.
Other concerns brought up at the meeting by youth councillors were railway tracks and fines on youth, the positive impacts a student discount program among local businesses could have and the lack of public transportation in town.
Sixteen-year-old Kassidy Gerhardi, council leader, said this year has been one of the most action driven youth councils she’s seen.
“It’s been a great year, I think the group is very ambitious, ” she said of the council that was once an organization under the wing of the Town of Cochrane but is now under the Boys and Girls Club of Cochrane and Area.
“When it was the mayor’s youth council it was more of learning from the mayor and learning about how the politics work and now it’s really transitioned to something youth-led, ” she said mentioning that as head of council this year, her goal was to give more free rein to the members.
“In previous years it was the head telling the kids what to do. This year, I wanted it to be ‘them’ run. I had an idea of what I’d like it to be but I gave it to them and I said ‘it’s whatever you wanted to be this year as a council and you guys can run with it.’ ”
The teen said she planned two weeks in advance for the event, including having a brainstorm meeting with the rest of the youth councillors.
“We brainstormed a lot of ideas and each person who spoke was very passionate about the things they addressed, ” she said. “We’re not sure if every item on our issues list is going to be something we continue on but we thought they were all worthwhile bringing up to the mayor. ”
Coun. Wilson, who had not heard of the group before attending the meeting, said he was blown away by the maturity of the teens on council.
“This is a pretty impressive group, ” Wilson said. “The poise of any of the questions – I think we got some better things here than I heard when we were campaigning. They definitely are on their stuff here. ”
The next Cochrane Youth Council meeting is planned for Jan. 16, which may potentially take place in Cochrane’s council chambers.