It is a ground-breaking premise, locallyl — have town officials invite students from a local school to share ideas and get involved with the town’s government while building relationships in hopes of having those students come back to the town to work, create businesses and, hopefully, keep repeating the cycle for future generations.
Called the New Generation Initiative, developed through the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center, the three-year program seeks youth in the community to get involved with government to help motivate young entrepreneurs, apply for grants to create job opportunities and to mobilize all future leaders.
Because of a recent rural grant received by the Town of Roseboro, officials there set their sights on reaching out to Lakewood High School’s Student Government Association by setting up a meeting and inviting them to begin getting involved with community issues.
“I think it is a great idea,” said Roseboro mayor David Alexander. “This is something that is a win-win for us and something that we are really excited about.”
Alexander, along with board member Roland Hall, recently met with officials and student leaders at Lakewood to discuss having a group come in and work with the town’s government to bring fresh ideas to the table for the future of the town.
“We wanted to encourage the kids to come and get involved with our town,” Alexander noted. “With this initiative, it gives us a chance to reach out and really talk to those kids about getting involved with our government. You know, a lot of these students have great ideas and to have them coming to our meetings and getting involved with what we are doing is only going to help us grow.”
Two Student Government Association students, senior and SGA president A.J. Reyes, and junior John Langley, SGA vice president, were brought into the meeting with Alexander, Hall and Lakewood High principal Monty Strickland, to discuss the idea.
“I thought it would be a big benefit for our school and students,” Strickland said. “It gets the kids involved with the community and how government works outside of school and it parallels what we are doing for graduation projects, regarding the community and civic aspect of it. It will allow them to bring back those ideas to our school and our student government,too. It really is a win-win for all of us.”
After the first of November, Reyes and Langley will select a 10-member group to participate with the town of Roseboro, something, they both said, they are looking forward to.
“I was really excited about it from the get-go,” said Reyes, who participated in several community events last year that were set up by student advocates Mike Reid and Tommie Owens. “Since those events, people have mentioned and asked when we were planning on doing something else … when this came up, it just seemed really exciting to get involved with.”
“My first thoughts was that is was overwhelming,” admitted Langley. “We are a rural town and there are a lot of people who really do want to get involved and do a lot of things with the community and be involved with community service projects, but they just don’t know how to come in and take the initiative to bring those things about. So, when this came along, it does seem overwhelming to now have that opportunity to bring those things about with the help of the town officials, which is what we want to do.”
Both Reyes and Langley said they have been interested in government for a while and look forward to getting involved with the town’s government.
“I was SGA president in middle school, and when I got in high school, I got out of it until they began voting and letting the students have some say, then I got back into it,” Langley said. “That was what made me get involved again, and it has been great. This is just another aspect of that and I am really excited about it.”
“It shows us a lot of respect,” said Reyes. “When a town makes an effort to get young people involved, it means a lot.”
Alexander said he not only wants to reach the students at the school, but all the young people in the community, encouraging them to get involved with the town’s decisions. “We are starting the push here at Lakewood High School,” he said. “But we do want to get everyone in the community involved, because they are our future. Because what happens is when the kids graduate from high school and go to college, they stay and don’t come back. We want kids to know that they can go to college, come back and work here in the community and be part of the government.”
That government is currently filled with older citizens, Alexander explained. “Look, when you look at our board, we got older people on it, we need younger people to get involved, too. The younger people have good ideas too and we want them to share their ideas and come to the meetings and share with us what they are thinking will be good for the future of our town.”
With the first steps by Alexander and Hall, Reyes said that he has already begun thinking more clearly about his future. “You know, I never had thought about coming back (to Roseboro) to work, but after all of this, it is kind of making me re-think and reconsider things,” he said.
Langley agreed. “The things that I am trying to pursue in life, I really don’t see why they couldn’t be achieved here in this town,” he said. “I can’t see why we can’t collaborate with these town officials once we get out of college and get things done in this community. I was raised here all my life and I feel the need to come back and help the community get better.”
“That is why we need them to get involved now,” Alexander explained. “Because they are in high school now and will be going off to college, if they can come back as entrepreneurs or help us develop the kinds of jobs they would want to come back here for, we can start that now.”
After an N.C. Rural meeting in November, Reyes and Langley will begin choosing their 10-member board. “We are going to look for dependable people out here, not just those who are going to say they are going to get involved and then back away from it,” said Reyes. “We really want to get people on board who really have a drive and want to make a difference in this community.”
The duo said they do not feel any added pressure to select the panel, as well as being the first group in Sampson County to team with a town’s government.
“I would call it more of a demand,” acknowledged Langley. “We will be looking for reliable people, because we want people to come back here and continue to develop ideas. We are starting it, but hopefully, it will continue after the three year period. So we want to select people that will have a good head and good mindset.”
“I think I will continue to make it a priority in my life even after I graduate,” noted Reyes. “It is important to me, because it is important to my community.”
Longtime Roseboro resident and student advocate Tommie Owens said he feels honored that the students are so excited about getting involved to make the town a better place.
“It is all beautiful,” he said. “Mayor Alexander, Mr. Hall and the entire board wants to see the town grow and it is refreshing to see that they are all about the community and seeking out the young people. It is not typical to see towns reach out to the younger people and allow them to share their ideas; it is refreshing to me.”
“I know that it an old cliche’ that these students are our future leaders, but they truly are,” added Strickland. “These students will soon be grown and doing things like this. I feel like it is a good start for them.”
If you want more information on the program or want to get involved, contact the Town of Roseboro at 910-592-4121.
To reach Doug Clark call 910-592-8137 ext. 123 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.