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In Mass. youth council, teens get more involved

Jared Lindh | 3/18/2009, 7:34 a.m.
Gov. Deval Patrick (left) swears in the inaugural members of the Governor’s Statewide Youth Council at a ceremony held Sept. 12, 2008, at the State House in Boston. The council was created by executive order last April. As it nears the end of its first year in existence, its members are hard at work getting young people from across Massachusetts more involved, both at the state level and in their own communities. Governor’s Office of Community Affairs

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Gov. Deval Patrick (left) swears in the inaugural members of the Governor’s Statewide Youth Council at a ceremony held Sept. 12, 2008, at the State House in Boston. The council was created by executive order last April. As it nears the end of its first year in existence, its members are hard at work getting young people from across Massachusetts more involved, both at the state level and in their own communities.

Grant Jones might only be 17 years old, but the young Mattapan resident knows what he wants to see in his neighborhood — more economic development.

“I’d really love to see the facilities improve,” said Jones, a student at Milton Academy. “It’s really interesting that you can go into a place like Brookline and see bookstores and things that are uplifting, but when you go into Mattapan, all you have are liquor stores and a very run-down and limited selection of what you can actually buy. It perpetuates economic depression and violence.”

Addressing such a big issue is a tall order, but Jones has the ear of a pretty influential mover in Massachusetts — Gov. Deval Patrick.

Jones is a member of the Governor’s Statewide Youth Council, an organization that Patrick established last April as part of an effort to increase civic participation and train the next generation of Massachusetts’ leaders from within.

As the council nears the end of its first year in existence, its members and their governmental supervisors are hard at work getting young people from across Massachusetts more involved, both at the state level and in their own communities.

According to Patrick, the council was created to act as sort of an advisory board to help find solutions to problems in four areas he identified as priorities when elected in 2006: education, civic engagement, economic development and community outreach.

“Many of the issues we are tackling today, from climate change and college costs to violence prevention and health care, will become even bigger issues tomorrow if we don’t start involving young people in these discussions now,” Patrick said in a statement after signing the executive order that created the council.

The youth council was born out of a discussion that Patrick had with about 20 Codman Square teenagers the day after the October 2007 shooting death of 13-year-old Dorchester resident Steven Odom. According to a published report, the students asked the governor to form a statewide youth council, and he agreed.

“I said, ‘Look, you don’t think I know — and I don’t pretend to know — so show me,’” Patrick said at the time.

While some elements of the council’s makeup were taken from previously established organizations in Minnesota and New Mexico, Ron Bell, director of the Governor’s Office of Community Affairs, which oversees the council, stressed that Massachusetts’ version was built from the ground up.

“Traditionally, people have been so used to top-down government — we’re going to do bottom-up government, from the people, organizing around their interests,” said Bell, a longtime community organizer. “In this case, [it’s] young people.”