PASO ROBLES — What does it take to serve on the Paso Robles Youth Commission board? According to two current commissioners, Paso Robles High School Seniors Kat Dickinson and Joe Cantrell, it takes passion, drive, determination and the desire to be the force of change on a local level.
Both Dickinson and Cantrell served on the Youth Commission board this past year and with their involvement in Youth Commission subcommittees, along with the pursuit of other issues they are passionate about, one of which was recently presented to the Paso Robles City Council, they are determined to leave to leave a legacy for the next round of PRHS students that will take their place this summer.
The commission, which was installed almost 20 years ago by former Slo County Supervisor and former Paso Robles Mayor Frank Mecham, is currently seeking new board members for the 2018-19 school year. Board spots are open to all current PRHS students who are looking for a place to funnel their passion to make a difference. The application deadline is April 13.
Mecham said he started the commission to give local youth the opportunity to dialogue with elected officials in order to establish what they felt were priorities.
“I felt strongly that it was a voice that needed to be heard,” Mecham said. “When the City Council said, ‘If you think it’s a good idea, then you’ll have to do it.’ I said I would, we did, and now the tradition continues.”
Both Dickinson and Cantrell decided to join the Youth Commission after Youth Commission President and PRHS student Mason
“I decided to join youth commission mostly because of Mason (
Dickenson, who came from a military family that has moved 18 times in her 18 years, said that she was impressed that a group like this existed. She had never seen an opportunity to be involved in her community in this capacity alongside others her age who shared similar passions.
“It immediately stuck out to me as an amazing and unique opportunity that I had never run into before,” she said.
Dickinson now serves as the chair
Cantrell, who self-professes as “shy,” said he wanted to join the commission to develop his leadership skills while working with others who displayed
“When I heard about Youth Commission, I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” Cantrell said. “The biggest reason I joined is I wanted to develop my leadership skills. I’m pretty shy. I thought it would give me more confidence by becoming more involved in local government.”
The Youth Commission follows the Brown Act, which guarantees public access to all the Youth Commision meetings that take place. The commission meets once a month, has an agenda and takes minutes that get approved by City Council. Each meeting, the youth commissioners get to talk about the
The Youth Commission’s goals this year include advocacy for teen issues, community service, promoting the Youth Commission, and developing and hosting a youth summit, where youth from all around North County will be invited to learn how they can get involved in local government.
Cantrell’s involvement as the Community Service Chair let him delve into his passion — nature and the environment — by getting the committee involved in the Adopt-A-Park program where Cantrell and other commissioners clean up different parks in Paso Robles.
“I do that because I’ve always been passionate about the outdoors,” Cantrall said. “In GEO class (Global Environmental Options class), we learn how valuable nature is and we learn to appreciate its beauty. This provides a way to protect it.”
The community service subcommittee also helps with the Salvation Army and other Parks and Recs events including Fall Family Fun Fest, the Super Summer Sign-Up Party, and other events around Paso Robles.
Dickinson also enjoys getting involved in the community by helping out at events that bring local people together.
“There’s never a time where it feels anywhere less than awesome to be able to give and to be able to contribute to something that provides the opportunity for locals to have a good time, and to be with other people, and to have that important family time, it’s super rewarding,” she said.
The Youth Commission isn’t all about meetings and reporting. Sometimes youth commissioners get the opportunity to advocate for a cause on which they fully agree as a board. They also get to research, plan implementation strategies and make presentations directly to City Council about a topic they find precedent, as was the case weeks back when members of the Youth Commission, along with Wilderness Club and Progressive Club members, made a presentation to City Council urging them to reconsider a polystyrene ban in Paso Robles.
A polystyrene ban was originally proposed to the Paso Robles City Council in July 2017, and the council decided to hold off voting on a ban to see if Paso Roblans would “police themselves” in order to reduce waste. According to Dickinson and Cantrell, this self-policing wasn’t enough to keep polystyrene out of the Salinas River, which is one of the main causes for concern.
“We’ve seen the proposition for people to police themselves,” Dickinson said of the Youth Commission’s decision to support polystyrene ban advocacy. “We’ve seen how that works and it’s clearly not effective, we’re still seeing the effects of polystyrene in the environment, the fact that it exists in the community at all, it’s doing its damage.”
According to the two youth commissioners, introducing neurotoxic-filled styrofoam into the local ecosystem can have devastating effects, not only on aesthetics of the river and the health local wildlife, but also the overall health of humans who consume food from that ecosystem.
“It’s not just about the wildlife and keeping things pretty,” Dickinson said. “The neurotoxins in polystyrene affect you and your body and people you care about — your friends, your kids, your loved ones — those people are affected, too.”
The Youth Commission took action on this topic after a few of the board members, including Cantrell and Dickinson, learned of the devastating effects of polystyrene in some of their classes. Gavin Hughes, the president of the Wilderness Club, was invited to present to the Youth Commission on the topic and the commission voted unanimously in support of seeing the ban revisited by City Council. The Youth Commission, along with other supporters, were then allowed to present their findings to the City Council, urging them to take another look at the proposed ban.
The City Council decided to look again at the ban proposition and staff were directed to prepare a report that will be presented at the May 1 City Council meeting. Both Dickinson and Cantrell were elated to see such immediate results from their actions, with the Council voting in favor of their presentation 4-1, something Dickinson considers a ‘win.’
“We were able to succeed in our mission,” she said.
Some of the Youth Commissioners were involved in PRHS classes and clubs that emphasize the environment and community change, but not all commissioners share the same background. Many weren’t involved in any of the same campus clubs. According to Dickinson, its this diversity that made the Youth Commission’s decision relevant, each commissioner saw the negative effects of polystyrene on the community and voted to see it banned.
“There are comparable products that are competitively priced,” Dickinson said. “We did that research and we provided it to City Council, so we know that this is viable and doable. There are so many other communities that have successfully implemented a ban already, including 17 in California. Clearly, it’s possible.”
Dickinson emphasized the importance of slow implement and allowing an ‘opt out’ option to community members that felt their business would be negatively affected. Paso Robles High School is already foam free, according to Dickinson.
“On a smaller level, we’ve already been able to accomplish this,” she said.
The Youth Commission hasn’t always been a strong, youth-led group viable of creating change. Only last year the commission didn’t have enough board members to fully function and commissioners had to personally recruit new members. This led the commission to rewrite their bylaws, which made the commission more student-led and appealing to other youth, according to some staff members, instead of being staff lead, which it had been in the past.
Lynda Plescia, Paso Robles Recreation Services Manager, has been heading up the Youth Commission during the 15 years she has been in her position. She has seen a lot of change in the commission over the years, and with the recent structural change to the commission, she has taken more of a back-seat role, supporting the commissioners as needed.
“Last year they were having trouble getting a full board,” Plescia said. “Mason (
This year is no different and the commissioners expect an equally competitive application process. Plescia credits the newly revised bylaws for the increased interest.
“That’s exactly what the Youth Commission is about, it’s about hearing from the youth and hearing what they want,” Plescia said. “It is so much better for them to be designing the Youth Commission to reflect their interest and their passion and their goals.”
Mecham also encouraged local students to get involved in the Youth Commission.
“There are two kinds of people in this world, those that think they can and those that think they can’t… and they’re both right,” he said. ”My message to them (youth commissioners) is to keep up the great work and don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t.”
Dickinson and Cantrell are passionate about next year’s recruitment as well and they encouraged anyone with a passion to serve and see change implemented in their community apply. They also noted the numerous skills gained from working with one another, as well as adults, to see the steps necessary to implement that change.
“You’re serving your peers and your community and it feels good that you’re working toward something,” Dickinson said about serving on the Youth Commission board. “You’re working toward something being better, and you’re sort of putting your foot in the door saying, “You know what? I am a part of the future, I’m apart of this movement that is going to be designing how the world works tomorrow.”
For more information on the Youth Commission or to apply, visit http://www.prcity.com/government/advisorybodies/youth.asp, or http://www.prcity.com/government/ and search “Youth Commission” at the top of the page.