‘The voice of tomorrow’: Youth Council works to improve lives of Destin teens

Savannah Vasquez
Youth council members Skylar Babin and Max Van Belkum.

Destin’s youth are eager to see change; and eight high school students on the city’s youth council are optimistic that they can see that change actualized.

Thursday night at City Hall saw the group call to order their last meeting of the year. Much like Destin’s city council meetings, the youth had a laid out agenda, which involved planning and discussing several projects for the upcoming year.

The most pressing matter of the night was the groups main project, a resolution they recently put forth to the city council to create bus transportation to Niceville High School for Destin students.

Council President Max Van Belkum told The Log that the youth council hoped to bring this issue before the Okaloosa County School Board before the end of the year, but the resolution must first be passed at the city level.

“They know about it,” said Van Belkum, who presented the idea to the city council recently. “We are right at the pinnacle. Nothing has happened yet but we are expecting changes.”

Ready to get the ball rolling on the matter, the youth council agreed to make a large showing at the next city council meeting scheduled for Jan. 6.

“I want them to know that it’s important to us, it’s our baby,” said Van Belkum.

As the meeting progressed, talk turned to a January service project, Adopt-A-Street, which will see the young volunteers take part in an annual cleaning day along one of Destin’s roadways. Also on the docket was the planning of an ultimate Frisbee tournament to take place in the spring.

“This time the tournament is just to organize teens and have fun,” said Van Belkum. “But next time we hope to make it a fundraiser.”

Parks and Recreation Program Coordinator Nick Coleman was present to run through the logistics of operating the event. After deciding on concession vendors, parental waivers and sideline referees, Coleman left the youth with a bit of encouragement.

“Once you see the Frisbee in the air, you may have 50 kids show up or you may see 1,500; but the thought that you made this happen, that should be your drive,” Coleman said.

Each member of the youth council serves an eight-month term from August to April with the chance to re-apply the following year. During their term the council must formulate a group project, as well as report the progress of the previous council’s project.

“Last year the project was creating a teen space in the Destin Library,” said Van Belkum. “Since its opening an increase of teen usage of the library has improved 238 percent. Also there has been a 33 percent increase of teen volunteers at the library since the teen space.”

Van Belkum noted that this increase may not all be attributed to the teen space, but the area has given students a new sense of ownership at the library.

As the meeting came to a close, students voted on a new motto for the youth council. The phrase that won with unanimous votes was, “The Voice of Tomorrow.”

“Being on the youth council I think the major thing I learned is that the things we are working on may not even benefit us personally, but its about making the changes for future teens, that’s what’s important about it,” said Van Belkum.