Guest blog post: Council Member Inspires Youth Voice

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The following post was written by high school interns employed through the Seattle Youth Employment Program. Their summer job at the YMCA of Greater Seattle is to produce media about their neighborhoods and to spark conversation via Back in July, the group met with Mike to share ideas about their neighborhoods and how to make them a better place to live…

People have problems, but how many are getting solved? Does it feel like no one cares and no one takes action when you share what you think? We’re going to tell you now that somebody cares.

This July, the YMCA’s Puget SoundOff ‘Hoods interns met with Council Member Mike O’Brien as part of his Leadership Project to foster civic leadership throughout the city. Council Member O’Brien is committed to meeting with groups of youth from a range of backgrounds, to talk to them about their needs and passions.

Our group was a little nervous before meeting with Mike, but once he started to talk, it was easy to ask questions. “Right when he walked in the door, his smile brought me less fear while talking to a person who I never imagined I would have a chance to talk to before,” says Chi Nguyen, 20. Mike wanted to hear our opinions and was really interested in our Puget SoundOff projects. ( “He was really open to hear what we wanted to say and I could see it through his eyes, the enthusiasm,” she says.

We shared our neighborhood themed photo essays along with other concerns we see every day such as: bus respect, broken street lights, trash on street, and how to connect people to each other within their neighborhood. He gave us an idea to organize our very own Night Out and we’re doing it! The Night Out will pull our neighborhood strangers together to forget our differences.

Council Members aren’t just great resources with ideas, but they are also there as someone to go to if there’s a problem in your community. “Meeting Council Member Mike O’Brien was a good thing that happened to me,” says Galma Waqo, 17. “That’s a good thing to know that there is someone that can help.” For example, a student once told Mike about a problem with the traffic light at MLK and Othello. Apparently the train would stop him on the way to school. Right before it was almost his turn, the train would come and the traffic light cycle starts all over. He mentioned this to Mike and the council member said, “Email me everything you just told me!” The next day King County Transit said they noticed the problem and fixed it that same day.

Overall, we had a great chance to meet up with a cool person like Mike who actually has authority to make things change. Plus, we are really glad that our opinions were listened and cared for by Seattle City Council. We know that our opinions might not be perfect but maybe it will help something for our neighborhood and city, even though we are young.

Mike wants to help people especially young kids like us. He wanted to hear our opinions, so he knows what youth are thinking. “Mike said young people’s voices often have more impact than an adult’s voice,” says Hau Khual, 17. “Yeah,” Ricky Nguyen, 16, agrees, “He believes that young peoples’ words have more impact on the issues concerning Seattle today.” He told us about a boring meeting he went to; people were dozing off, but when a seventh grade girl spoke up, everyone listened to what she had to say. “That inspired us because many younger people think that they will not be heard or listened to,” says Kidist Mengitsu, 17. “Youth voice is important because people listen. It’s not everyday you see a kid speaking out, so he encouraged us to keep it up.”

“The council members need to hear our young voices if they would like to hear what really matters,” says Ephraim Nelson, 15. “It will help prepare for the future and with that, we can make the new generation better.”

Council Member O’Brien spent his time listening to what we have to say and we, in turn, should do the same for other young people who are the future,” says Ricky Nguyen, 16. “Inspiration can cause people to do amazing things! I want to be successful in life.”

“This inspires me to join groups to help my city and town become better communities,” says Ephraim Nelson, 15. “With that, we can get a group of people to clean up city blocks. We can have talent shows that would help raise money and food for the homeless and organizations. We need it for the simple fact that we need to be known as a community. We can’t be called that if we don’t take care of ourselves and have organization.”

Meeting the council member can be very resourceful to us, as us, we mean the community. We need to go to him for everything that doesn’t fit or that you think needs to be improved for your neighborhoods’ sakes. Mike says he will try to solve any problem surrounding the community, but unfortunately, most people don’t know this yet. That’s why we, Puget SoundOff, are blogging about this great resource and how it can make a difference. We want other youth to know that their voices can be heard too. It is important to speak out and let our voices be heard because we are the future.

So when things aren’t going the way you planned, it’s because you’re talking to the wrong people, talking to the wrong crowd. You need to talk to someone with the power to make the world and your community a better place. An obstacle you might have is “How do I contact him?” He is easy to contact. You can e-mail him at: or even hit him up on Facebook. Of course, Puget SoundOff is another great place for youth to bring up issues for the Council Member through the Leadership Project Group: It is an opportunity to extend conversation by bringing it to the YMCA, and bring it online. This group hopes to broaden youth access to O’Brien’s Leadership project, and also to open up new media for expressing youth voice and opinions.

So, whatever you have to say about the neighborhood you live in, let the world know. “The youth can make an impact and they are the future,” says Jordan Chambers, 15. “Your voice can change your community. Your voice can change the world.”

We are thankful that Council Member Mike O’Brien took time to meet with us.

–The Puget SoundOff ‘Hoods Interns at the YMCA of Greater Seattle