Portage Youth Commission Strives to Improve City

Written by Mike Siroky. Posted in Uncategorized


Published on December 15, 2010 with No Comments

by Mike Siroky

After a couple of years of near-slumber, the revitalized Portage Youth Commission is back this year in full stride, challenging the legendary commissions of past years in their efforts to improve their hometown.

This year’s commission members are Chairman A.J. Laramie, Vice Chairman Conner Haupt, Secretary Lauryn Alyea and Emily Dominguez, Zak Spurlock and Mackenzie Widener.

They are mentored by Mayor Olga G. Velazquez, who founded the commission as a council member. Her love for the commission and its members has never waned.

“This is a special group; they get it,” the mayor said.

With adherence to open-door meetings, the duty to suggest improvements to the mayor and an allegiance to parliamentary procedure, they are a legitimate city commission. The commission was sanctioned by a city ordinance in 2003.

Some past commissions have had as many as 15 members. No one is turned away, though there is a vetting process with the commission chairman and the mayor asking questions of applicants.

“What I wanted to do was pretty much volunteer in the community, to show people we love our hometown,” Alyea said. “We are more here to help with lots of projects.”

Some of the past accomplishments include a Youth-Friendly Business project, in which students learned about businesses and businesses learned to appreciate and value their younger customers.

Another previous – and popular – project was called “Peaces of Art” in which the students discussed how to have a peaceful community, from families to issues of dealing with domestic violence.

There were window stickers, T-shirts and other visible support mechanisms to remind citizens of their work.

The commission meets twice a month, with a work session on the second Wednesday of every month, and a full-blown formal meeting in council chambers on the fourth Wednesday.

“Right before the end of last year, the mayor called me and I filled out a Web application. A.J. liked it and I like being on this committee,” Spurlock said.

Laramie, is one of the returning commissioners from last year.

“I’ve been on the Student Council and Student Leadership Council, but this is for the whole community,” he said.

“I admit, I didn’t know much about the mayor when I started; I don’t follow politics at all so I didn’t know what to expect. But I‘ve worked with her and learned to respect her positions.”

The commission members feel they receive that same respect from the mayor in return.

“She hears our opinion,” Alyea said. “She listens to what we say, she hears us. This is an adult who actually values us.”

Watching them in action is to see the full democratic process. Ideas are presented, refined and set for action. No input is turned away, no voice too small to be heard and respected. Some of the discussions may start off-track or with a misconstrued notion of the truth, but with the gentle guidance of the mayor, all comes out well.

The Portage Youth Commission is undertaking three citywide projects in the first quarter of 2011, which they are working on now. Each commission member chairs a particular event, but all commission members pitch in on subcommittees to ensure success.

In January, the commission will sponsor a Soap Box day in the Fieldhouse at Portage High School. This will be a chance for every voice to be heard, a chance for anyone to stand up and give a speech on any subject.

This entails setting up the necessary school space, scheduling the speakers and making sure it is carried out in a respectful manner.

In April, there will be “Animals on Parade,” with, of course, a parade of any beast that can walk the route.

But there will also be vendors, animal rescue groups, police and fire dogs, groomers and comfort dogs. A talent show for the animals is expected to be a big hit.

Culture Fest is a big event scheduled for early April. The commissioners are contacting representatives of every conceivable ethnic group to be represented, from dancers and other cultural performances to ethnic food and historical presentations.

The idea, of course, is to draw people to Portage for the celebrations as much as it is to learn about life in the Region and to encourage participation of member’s peers.

The projects may sound complex, but as each is proposed and discussed, enthusiasm overwhelms any suggestion that they cannot accomplish whatever they attempt.

Organizational charts, detailed plans, timelines and acceptance of duties all channel towards the goals.

Already completed were social duties such as leaf-ranking for the elderly or infirm in the community. All assigned sites were reported as complete before the first snow.

Other youth groups, such as the youth group of the Nazarene Church, want to come aboard for any and all projects.

For more information about the Portage Youth Commission or their efforts, call Mayor Olga’s office at 219-762-5425, or visit www.ci.portage.in.us.

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About Mike Siroky

All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the above excellent column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Mike Siroky is a writer and editor. He is a native of Northwest Indiana. He has worked in media from coast to coast. To contact Mike, email mikel@the chronicleNWI.com

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