By Tom Hayden
City of Cape Coral

One of the most rewarding experiences for our Cape Coral City Council is working with our Youth Council, an incredible group of area high school juniors and seniors who plan meetings and participate in various projects throughout the year. They strengthen our City of Cape Coral, a community of 215,000 people in Southwest Florida.

Three years ago, to better connect our youth in a more public role with our City Council, we had the first-ever joint City Council-Youth Council public meeting. The goal was to allow these students to ask their City Council questions on issues important to them and, at the same time, offer the City Council solutions for what today’s youth would like to see in their City now and in the future.

We just recently finished our third annual joint meeting. During the meeting, the Florida League of Cities (FLC) recognized the Youth Council for being selected as a winner in the 2023 Youth Council Video Competition. This year’s video competition asked councils to address what makes their city, town or village great. The video highlights their scenic locations, wildlife, population growth and community events. The video also speaks to the Youth Council’s passion for service through their monthly volunteering opportunities. It also shares how they are one of the first youth councils in the state to adopt a strategic plan and lay out their goals to develop their Council.

What has happened each time that the two Councils meet is an amazing conversation between the City  Council, the students and City staff members interacting in a way so that great ideas our being shared as we build this growing city for the next 20 to 30 years.

The students want to be part of the plan because they are the ones who will be raising their families and working here in the future. They want more opportunities to be able to socialize at our parks or other facilities. They want more recreational and entertainment opportunities. They want their City Council members to visit their schools and engage in conversations on issues important to them. In short, they want to be involved.

Our City Council knows how bright and resourceful these students are, and the joint meetings have allowed the public to see their gifts as well. The meetings have given the students a voice and helped them develop their own strategic plan. They know this City Council is listening to them.

Although there has been only one of these joint meetings a year, there was discussion at the last joint meeting about scheduling two meetings a year. In the past three years, members of the City Council have learned the value of these meetings and look forward to future exchanges.

Tom Hayden is a Councilmember for the City of Cape Coral.