BRADENTON -- Jessica Williams wants to change her community.
And she’s taking steps to make it happen.
At 16 years old, the Central High School junior has joined the Manatee Youth Commission and is among 18 students from across the county who want to have a more proactive role in Manatee.
“I want to change things in the community and become a leader,” Jessica said Saturday at the commission’s inaugural meeting in the Central Library.
“A lot of young people see what’s going on in our community and have good ideas to bring about change. We are concerned about teen pregnancy, drugs and alcohol, and have solutions to fix those problems.”
The new initiative is aimed at engaging youth in government and local decision-making, and building the next generation of government leaders.
Local state Rep. Greg Steube and Manatee County Commissioner Michael Gallen support the cause and spoke to about a dozen students Saturday about the importance of youth in decision-making.
“It’s good to see them getting involved like this,” said Steube, who encouraged the students to follow their dreams and to get involved with local government. “I want to encourage you to stay involved. That’s part of what leadership is about -- taking initiative and staying active.”
Gallen said he was impressed with the level of interest the students have in government.
“I could tell they were certainly engaged and really wanted to learn,” he said. “I would love to keep coming back and talking with them. I think it’s important that they get involved.”
He and Steube answered questions about their career paths and explained how local and state government work, going over everything from how a bill becomes a law to their salaries.
“I learned a lot about what government does and what it does for us,” said Kristen Truong, 16, a junior at Bradenton Christian.
Kristen said she’s looking forward to the commission tackling issues such as teen bullying and coming up with solutions to issues that impact youth.
Topics discussed Saturday ran the gamut from bullying to teen pregnancy, and drug use to activities that would prevent teens from making bad choices because of boredom.
“This is beyond what I could have imagined,” said Jennifer Radebach, a member of the Children’s Services advisory board in Manatee County who also helped generate private funding for the commission.
“It’s been phenomenal.”