Destin teens taste city leadership

Savannah Chastain
Youth Council functions just like the official City Council with votes on motions. Here the Youth Council votes on a motion to move the next meeting from its current date, during spring break, to an earlier date. Pictured from left are: Max Van Belkum, Andre Eimers, Adam Van Belkum, Erin Groth, Chandler Ankersen, and Megan Wood.

“I call this meeting to order,” began high school senior Erin Groth.

As elected chairperson for the February meeting of the Destin Youth Council, Groth led the meeting in the same way an official City Council would. Today’s main topic involved a proposal the youth will bring to the City Council on school zoning choices for Destin students.

“Currently Fort Walton Beach High School is the zone school for Destin,” explained City Clerk Rey Bailey. “If you have a valid reason you can get a waiver to another school, however, the only bus system provided is to Fort Walton Beach.”

The students are now pushing for choice zoning for Destin residents with a bussing system put in place to both Fort Walton Beach and Niceville.

Youth council member, Max Van Belkum explained that many students choose schools based on their different academic or sports programs, and he personally chose Niceville High School over Fort Walton Beach for its Gifted Program.

“Every high school has its own advantages,” he said.

This school year, approximately 133 students from Destin attend Niceville High School, and the youth council hopes that by their efforts, free transportation will be arranged to Niceville for the upcoming school year.

Although many of the students originally joined the Youth Council for its extracurricular appeal on college transcripts, most now hold a different view.

“The first year I did it just for the resume,” said Groth, “but this year I joined because I saw what we did last year; something big, and something important.”

The group’s efforts last year yielded a new teen space to be dedicated in the Destin library, complete with a new teen book club, recording equipment for school projects, and specialized texts books.

“We help them make decisions about how the teen space should look,” said Groth.

The Destin Youth Council first formed in 2007, as an idea brought forth by then city council member, Sam Seevers. Bailey has been the liaison for the youth council from its inception, and imparted that the young enthusiasm is what really makes the group successful.

“They are motivated to really be the voice for the youth and they are willing to do whatever’s necessary to improve,” he said.  “The Destin City Council really does listen and value their opinion.”

When asked if a future in politics was on their minds, all of the students present shared that they never thought of it that way.

“I think we are all gaining experience; tasting it.” Said Van Belkum.

“As a teenager, there are not a lot of things for teens to participate in,” said Megan Wood, whose father, Jim Wood, is a current Destin city councilman. “I just really want to help the teens in Destin have a voice.”

From the more serious school zoning proposal to planning a light-hearted ultimate Frisbee tournament, the students on the Youth Council are really working to create teen-focused projects that encourage community involvement.

“We focus on things that bring teens together and help teens become more involved,” said Groth.

Want to join the Youth Council?

The Destin Youth Council runs June-April, and is taking applications for the 2014-2015 term. To apply, email Rey Bailey at