Photo courtesy Mike Furbush
Members of Newnan Town Council answer questions from members of the Newnan Youth Council 2022-23 during a recent get-together.
Pandemic Restricted Days are over for Newnan Youth Council, which kicked off a new year by meeting with Newnan Town Council last week.
The purpose of the Newnan Youth Council is to provide secondary school youth in Newnan and Coweta County with a means to learn about government, participate in the process, and represent and articulate the needs of young people in the community, according to the town of Newnan. website, and hundreds of students have taken the program over the past 13 years.
But for the last couple, regular activities have been limited.
“(COVID-19) has affected trips we’ve taken out of state or to state conferences, and to various places around town so we can see how they work,” said Mike Furbush, who has served as a liaison with city staff since the inception of the youth council in 2008. “It was very difficult to go on one of our after-school field trips.
Most of the group’s work was confined to its meetings at the Wadsworth Auditorium – the only space large enough to ensure proper social distancing.
The limitations have not had a negative effect on interest in vacancies on the board. Furbush said that in the summer of 2020 – months after schools, businesses and government agencies were abruptly shut down amid pandemic fears – the Newnan Youth Council received 20 applications for 12 open places.
“It didn’t affect our numbers,” he said. “Our participation has always been about the same. We always accept more applications than we could add to the board.
This year’s board has 36 members, the maximum Furbush said he considers manageable, but that means making tough decisions.
“We had 30 applications last year, and not one was a bad interview,” he said. “It was heartbreaking to have to send these notices. It wasn’t at all the case that they weren’t good enough to be on the board – we just didn’t have room for all of them.
The Youth Council is open to Coweta County high school sophomores, juniors and seniors from public, private, charter, and home schools, and even those attending high school outside the county.
Students selected for the council typically begin serving in their sophomore year of high school and may remain in place until graduation, depending on attendance and participation.
“We have about a 99% retention rate,” Furbush said. “Most of those who have not returned are those who have moved.”
Newnan’s is one of many youth councils created by Georgia towns that look to their young residents for help with community issues and feedback.
In return, a diverse group of students have the opportunity to build relationships – and bridges – by experiencing first-hand the inner workings of local government and partnering with local leaders to generate and implement programs and projects that improve their community.
“They are the official voice of youth and ambassadors for the town of Newnan,” Furbush said.
Council members usually meet once a month and elect their own officers. In addition to encouraging students — who come from a variety of backgrounds — to get to know each other, Furbush brings in guest speakers from government, business, and education to share their experiences.
As restrictions began to ease last year, the Newnan Youth Council began adding more activities. Members participated in a state conference and volunteered for the LINC Howloween Pet Parade, judged floats for the Newnan Christmas Parade (in which they also marched as elves) and created 200 handmade Valentine’s Day cards for patients at cancer treatment centers across America.
They also toured the Georgia Capitol and met with local legislators, opened the annual Friends of Wadsworth concert, and the Ready, Set, LINC! 1K Kids Run, in addition to serving as paparazzi and giveaways at the Boys & Girls Club’s Oscar Gala.
“We just now feel like we’re back to normal,” Furbush said.
He accompanies officers to state and national conferences, has overseen service projects and meetups, and has seen students thrive throughout the program.
“It’s one of my favorite things to do, working with the city,” Furbush said. “It’s very gratifying to be able to meet the young people, to see the talent that exists and to see them progress with us for three years. They arrive quite shy and reserved, but in the end they come out of their shell and add a lot of value to the city as ambassadors. It’s just awesome to see.
For more information about the Newnan Youth Council, contact Furbush at [email protected]