A Gresham High School freshman was inspired to make a difference and get involved at City Hall because of the neighborhood where she grew up.
Dani Moss, a first-year Gopher, grew up in Rockwood.
“We didn’t have enough of anything, growing up in not the best environment,” she said. “So this summer when I toured Gresham City Hall, learning about the Youth Advisory Council clicked.”
The goals of the organization, which centers youth voices and ideas, fit the needs she had seen and experienced.
“It is about trying to make our community a better place, and I knew I wanted to get involved,” Moss said.
That was a passion Elaina Oommen, a Barlow junior, shared. She had started getting involved beyond the average high schooler during the efforts to plan and fund a Gresham-Barlow School District student health center. So when she learned about the Youth Advisory Council, she jumped in with both feet.
“It is a way to learn concrete, tangible ways to help people,” Oommen said.
Now the pair are co-leading the youth organization, which is gaining steam after a forced multi-year hiatus during the pandemic. Restarted in December, YAC has been meeting with community organizations, city departments, planning youth events, and inspiring their peers to have their voices heard.
“This group brings us together beyond our respective high schools,” Oommen said. “We are all here to represent ourselves, fellow students, and what we need.”
“We are showing adults through our actions,” she added.
The Youth Advisory Council is all about giving the city of Gresham a new perspective.
The team of high schoolers — right now there are eight members, with Moss and Oommen serving as co-chairs after an election among their peers — meets the first and third Wednesday of the month to learn about how the city of Gresham functions, while also providing valuable insight.
They meet with city staff, elected officials, and community partners; volunteer and organize events and outings; paint murals; advocate on important issues for youths like school safety and student mental health; and inspire their classmates.
This year has been something of a rebirth for the program after a pandemic-forced hiatus. The new batch of members first began meeting this December, which was delayed from the normal start in the fall. Because of those lost months, the students asked their advisors to extend the program into the summer.
“They all told us to extend it year-round, so we did,” said Rachel Fetters, youth services administrative coordinator and YAC alum. “That is something we will continue to do in the future.”
The extra months will allow for a more robust slate of activities from the members, including support at popular events like the Gresham Arts Festival. It also opens up the registration period. Rather than limited to a window, local high schoolers can apply and join at any point during the year.
There is a hope to get more members from the diverse array of high schools in East Multnomah County. That would include representatives from Centennial, Reynolds, Springwater Trail, and Rosemary Anderson High Schools, as well as the Center for Advanced Learning and Metro East Web Academy.
Learn more and apply at greshamoregon.gov/Youth-Advisory-Council/
“A lot of kids want jobs and to get involved, they just don’t know how,” Moss said. “This is a great place to get started.”
“Everybody is super nice, we don’t bite,” added Oommen with a laugh.
The team has already been busy in its return.
The team has already been busy. They attended a Youth Summit in Hillsboro; with city personnel from multiple departments to learn more about how Gresham operates; and met with a team attempting to make participatory budgeting the norm in Oregon.
On Saturday, the council is helming the Gresham Youth Job Fair, which will allow high schoolers to learn about job opportunities, different career paths, college, trade school, and more. There will be mock interviews and guidance on how to write resumes and cover letters.
“All of this brings youths together beyond high school,” Oommen said.
“We are the future,” added Moss. “We are going to be making the decisions 20 or 30 years from now, so we need to get involved.”