The Payson Advisory Youth Council (PACE) hopes to feed the hungry, challenge the cynical and stimulate the bored, now that its nine young activists have absorbed some life lessons on how hard it is to get things done.
The council last week decided to challenge high school students to contribute to the community food drive, aimed at providing extra help for overwhelmed food banks.
Established last year by the Payson Town Council to reflect the views of teenagers in what often seems like a retirement town, the idealistic teens have surveyed students, staged a concert in the park and last week agreed to collect at least 100 pounds of food each.
“It’s been a big learning experience,” said Dillon Walker of the council’s struggle to get other teens engaged, master parliamentary procedure and figure out how to stage community events.
But council member Alicia Bayless said the group remains more committed than ever to “making Payson more teen friendly.”
“A lot of us have never experienced how government runs,” said Walker. “But the feedback we’ve gotten on our surveys is that this town doesn’t have a lot to do. We have a bowling alley, we have a movie theater and we have a Walmart. It is a retirement community and we make up a very small percentage of the population.”
Council members said they hope to get teens involved in community activities like the food drive and to push the town council to organize events that will give teens something to do. Current members include Walker, Bayless and Tyler Aguirre, Anthony Smith, Austin Shannon, Lauren Best, Daniel Conley and several alternates who did not attend the meeting.
They noted that they hope that the members of the council can use the proliferating social networks that bind almost every teenager in Payson to not only promote activities, but to ensure the town council takes into account the views of younger citizens — even if they can’t yet vote.
As an example, they cited the debate two years ago about whether the town should offer the Valley of the Sun YMCA a long-term, low-cost lease of Taylor Pool as the core for a new youth center, that would have included year-round swimming and a teen recreation center — with everything from computers and video games to a weight room.
Voters overruled the council’s attempt to make a deal with the YMCA, but the views of teens remained largely unexpressed throughout the controversy.
“If PACE had been around, we would have gotten involved,” said Walker. He said that means combating the reluctance of teens to follow town politics. “It is exactly that attitude (on the part of teens) saying, ‘It’s politics. I don’t want to get involved and show up at a boring town council meeting.’ So we should show up and say, yes, teens in this town want a YMCA.”
But in the meantime, the group is working to understand the system, let people know they’re here and figuring out how to help both the community and those bored, uninvolved teens.
Payson Councilor Su Connell, who has served as the group’s adviser and liaison to the council, last week challenged the council to get involved in the food drive.
“I challenge you to each bring in 100 pounds of food. We really need it,” said Connell, since the food drive on has a couple of weeks left but remains well short of its goal of collecting 55,000 pounds of food and $25,000 in cash.
The youth council quickly accepted the challenge to collect roughly 1,500 cans of food.
They immediately started organizing, assigning some members to seek the permission of the high school administration to place food collection boxes on campus and some members to investigate how the youth council can set up a booth or collection boxes at various upcoming community events.
In addition, the council discussed the lessons learned in the past year including the mixed success of a summer concert. The concert drew a modest crowd to Green Valley Park and raised several hundred dollars — mostly from the sale of glow sticks. However, the concert would have lost money without a $700 donation from Friends of Payson Parks and Recreation, which covered the cost of the band and other key expenses.
Aguirre said the council should have picked a date with less competition. “We need to plan activities when there aren’t other events — so people will actually come. We need to sit down and text people, if nothing else, to get them out.”
He also said the cover band from the Valley played oldies instead of current tunes. “I don’t think that most teenagers want to sit for two hours and listen to a band covering songs from 20 years ago.”
“I liked it,” objected Shannon.
“I just don’t think it’s practical to spend money on a band every time,” said Aguirre.
“But the generation above us is still a part of this,” said Shannon.
“More like four generations above us,” interjected Walker.
That drew a general groan —and nervous looks in Connell’s direction.
“Oh, well,” stammered Walker. “That’s not a stab,” he blushed.
Connell only laughed.
The group hopes to plan a series of events in the course of this year to get teens involved and raise money.
They said they hope to find a way to interject news about town events and politics into buzzing social networks through which most teens contribute ceaselessly with one another. Recent studies show that most teenagers exchange hundreds of text messages every day.
“The potential is astounding,” said Walker. “But they can be hard to tap into. Hopefully, that’s what PACE is supposed to be about.”