Democracy was alive and well at Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs’ Fourth Annual Youth Leadership Conference, which was held recently at Rollins College. Jacobs welcomed more than 200 high school student leaders from 22 Orange County Public Schools. The half-day event taught students about their local county government, how to participate in community initiatives and how to strengthen their leadership skills.
“We can walk through life as participants or we can walk through life as spectators,” said Mayor Jacobs. “Because you are here today, you are participants. A fully functioning government depends on all citizen participation, and this is one of the reasons why I hold my annual Youth Leadership Conference.”
Winter Park High School student Jared Olson’s favorite part of the conference was participating in a mock public hearing for zoning. He had to testify in front of the board about why his residential property was cited for junk and debris. Olson said he was an immigrant who did not think the property was an eyesore. In the end, the board unanimously agreed that the property needed to be cleaned up and fined $200 per day if he did not remove the trash within 45 days.
Colonial High School student Samuel Vilchez served as the board chair and he said, “The American Dream requires following the law and the law does not discriminate.”
“The most important thing I gained from the conference was the reminder that being involved in the community is not that difficult,” said Olson. “We learned how to make our voices heard and how Orange County is run. It is a citizen-driven process and this conference has opened doors for me through which I know I can make a difference.”
Students also participated in a Youth Issues Forum with Mayor Jacobs where they discussed topics that were of importance to their generation. Issues ran the gamut from cyber-bullying, LBGT and Muslim rights to student testing.
This year, students were once again given the challenge to post videos on Facebook, recapping what they learned at the conference, and a chance to “job shadow” their Mayor for a day. Each high school will collaborate on their video and one school will be selected as the winner of the Mayor for a Day Challenge.
A collection of photos from Mayor Jacobs’ Fourth Annual Youth Leadership Conference are available for use by the media and are located on Flickr.