South Charlotte

Teen Council is a chance to learn leadership

It seems like kids in middle and high school have fully booked schedules these days: soccer practice, piano lessons, swim meets, marching band, youth group - maybe even a part-time job.

But missing from this list is a leadership program for motivated youths to work directly with local government employees and elected officials to make a difference in the community.

Pineville's Parks and Recreation Department noticed this void in its activities inventory and has developed a new program, called Teen Council, to fill that need.

"The ultimate goal is to give teens useful skills to make them more well-rounded people. It's about creating positive opportunities in our community," said Parks and Recreation Director Kristy Detwiler, 51.

The idea for Teen Council came to Detwiler when she learned that Pineville community members were looking for a program solely for teens; there already are numerous programs for preschool- and elementary-age children.

"Teens need more positive opportunities," said Detwiler. "Many other towns have teen councils, why not Pineville?"

Parks and Recreation Department's Recreation Assistant Heather Creech, 38, was a big part of the implementation of the Teen Council. "Heather attended a conference and took classes on how to put together a teen council and run it," says Detwiler.

But running a program isn't what Parks and Recreation staff are looking to do. "We are just going to guide them; we want them to make it what they want it to be," said Detwiler. "We would like the teens to run the program and elect their own board."

The vision Detwiler and Creech have for Pineville's Teen Council mimics a student government organization: electing officials, community service, fundraisers for special trips and creating a scholarship fund, all while gaining experience in civic leadership and teamwork.

Teen Council members will have the opportunity to work directly with Pineville's elected officials.

"We want the teens to bring their ideas together to better the community, and then to present their ideas to Town Council for approval and implementation - making real changes," said Detwiler.

Although Teen Council is meant for youths to gain leadership experience, it won't be all work and no play, said Detwiler.

Along with monthly meetings, social events are scheduled: Extreme Game Night, DJ Spinnin Tunes and Movie Night will give teens a reward for the hard work they put into the council.

In addition to the social events and community involvement, the Parks and Recreation Department also is planning guest speakers to present on a quarterly basis.

"We are going to have guest speakers: someone to help write college essays, someone to talk about peer pressure and dealing with friends, and elected officials," said Detwiler.

Youths involved in Teen Council can fulfill their school's community service requirement through the program.