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Youth program allows Downers Grove teens to serve on village commissions

Published: Friday, June 21, 2013 11:15 a.m. CDT

DOWNERS GROVE – The application window is open for Downers Grove teens who want to experience government first-hand and have their voices heard by Village Hall.

Downers Grove’s Youth in Government program places teens on village commissions as voting members for a year. The program is open to students who will be juniors in high school in the fall. Applications are due July 1.

Justine Hung, a 17-year-old senior-to-be at North High School, began her year in the program in October. She sits on the village’s Environmental Concerns Commission with the nine adult members.

“They’ve been really welcoming to me, too,” she said. “I like being able to feel like I’m their equal. They don’t treat me as a student.”

Hung and the rest of the commission created a recognition this year for green businesses in town and are working on a water conservation initiative.

She said the experience has opened her eyes to how decisions are made in the village. She plans to go into the healthcare field, but she might look to be civically active, too, after the experience.

Applications for the program are collected by village staff and given to Mayor Martin Tully, who interviews potential participants, program manager and Village Management Fellow Nick Santoro said. Tully then nominates the students he chooses, and the Village Council votes whether to confirm the nominations like they would for any other board appointees.

“We have a lot of people who have been serving on commissions or serving in the community for decades,” he said. “It’s always nice to get that perspective of the future leaders on the issues.”

Santoro said when the program was started in 2006, a survey of other communities revealed it to be somewhat rare.

Unlike the adult commissioners who serve three-year terms, students are cycled through on a one-year basis.

“You’re constantly getting that fresh perspective,” Santoro said.

In addition to the environmental commission, students can serve on the Transportation and Parking Commission, the Community Events Commission and the Social and Health Services Commission, which meets on a more ad hoc basis.

During the application process, students rank the commissions in order of preference, although they are not guaranteed their top choice.

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