Youth bring Fayette’s future into focus

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County Adminstrator Steve Rapson listens to a member of AVPRIDE Fayette Youth Leaders PRIDE at last weekend’s workshop. In their breakout group, Rapson focused on ideas to make the county more appealing to young residents. (Staff Photos by Christopher Dunn)

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Fayetteville City Manager Ray Gibson looks over a map with a student.

One of the county’s most historic locations played host to talk of the future last weekend as several local leaders had a meeting of the minds with engaged students. Saturday morning at the Old Courthouse brought together a group of high school students learning to step up for their community and four key government figures and two other local leaders for a discussion on how to get the county’s younger residents involved at the AVPRIDE Fayette Youth Leaders PRIDE workshop on economic development and civic engagement. County Administrator Steve Rapson, Tyrone’s Town Manager Kyle Hood, Fayetteville’s City Manager Ray Gibson, Peachtree City’s City Manager Jon Rorie, Emily Poole with the Fayette County and Development Authority, and Ogechi Oparah talked to the students about the importance of their engagement and how they can get more involved.
“It’s important that we know that you have these ideas and that we can actually implement them and make your life better,” said Rapson, noting that it was work by a county intern that brought a golf cart parking lot to Starr’s Mill High School. “When you give us an idea, we can run with it. That’s something we like to do.”
Rapson said the county is eager to hear from the best and the brightest.
“Y’all are supposed to be the smart kids,” he said. “You give us hope.”
For Hood, himself a millennial, engaging the younger generation is vital because they simply see the world in a whole different way from many in office.
“With all due respect to the mayors and councils and commissioners, we as a generation want things totally different than anybody before us in Fayette County,” said Hood. “If you don’t step to the plate, if you don’t show up and show out at some point, you’ll continue to be under-appreciated and not heard.”
Hood warned that leaving others to decide what they like would not likely be a good representation of what students actually want.
“Hearing from you directly is far better and more productive than assuming what you want,” he said. “Make sure you do seize upon these opportunities. We can take that data and make sure that this is the kind of place that you want to come back to.”
Gibson opened with some eye-opening questions for the students. He asked if the students feel like their voices are heard by their local government and if the students have a good understanding of how local government works. Neither question saw many hands raised. He followed by asking if the opinions of youth should be considered by local government, and every hand in the room raised. Gibson gave his thoughts candidly.
“I’m going to be very honest. I don’t believe the City of Fayetteville does a good enough job of engaging our citizens in decisions that impact their quality of life. On the flip side of that, I don’t believe that we do a good job of engaging the youth on decisions that impact them on a daily basis.”
Gibson added that the city is committing to involving residents of all ages. One plan is to create a Mayor’s Youth Council.
“Why should we involve youth? I believe we’ll have a better plan, a better vision for our future in Fayetteville and Fayette County.”
Rorie spoke about the importance of making sure youth are not lost in the shuffle as the county and country start to age.
“As a nation, we’re going through demographic shift, and one of the things that we have to do is respect and try to respond to the interests of all,” said Rorie.
Rorie reminded the students that it is those who are active in the community and demand their voices be heard are the ones who are shaping the direction of the county.
“The one who is engaging the community actually gets to define the course,” he said. “If you look up at this table and you think that I look old, and you’re not going to these meetings and you’re not engaging in this community, then the public interest is the one who’s actually out there speaking saying we want, we need the direction this way.
“If it’s not moving in the direction you want, it’s because the older people are making those decisions, and they’re making those decisions based on everything from the past, but we also need to be able to look to the future, and that’s why we need that engagement from the youth.”
Each of the four government figures split off and worked with small groups of the students, engaging in a hands-on discussion. Rapson’s section focused on what the county can do to make it more appealing for high school age kids. Hood addressed creating a cool college town. Gibson delved into the comprehensive plan and how it will be a guidepost for each city for the next 20 years. Rorie was left with the complicated topic of taxes and how to pay for everything.
Students answered a survey at the workshop, offering insight into how our county’s younger residents think. Asked what kind of jobs would have the best chance of keeping them in the county after college, the top choice was medical/health at 45 percent, followed by business (marketing, management, accounting, etc.) and film/TV. The survey noted that a recent study revealed only 20 percent of local high school students plan to live in Fayette after college. The overwhelming respond to how best lure them back to town would be to offer more places to go at night (57 percent).
Town halls and community forums were voted the best way to participate in the economic development process. The results also reflected the students’ self-reported ambivalence in local government with nearly half choosing “don’t know” when asked if they got a good return on the amount of taxes paid to services received. Similarly, “don’t know” was the top response when asked how best to fund the services provided.
Fayette Youth Leaders PRIDE brings together the most innovative, influential, and ambitious student leaders who have a passion for problem solving, setting positive examples for their peers, and creating opportunities for others to succeed. The students are nominated by the faculty and staff of all five county high schools. They are then selected by community leaders based on demonstrated leadership, involvement in school, dedication to community service, and interest in personal development. For more information on how to get involved, visit www.avpride.org.

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About

Christopher Dunn has been the sports editor for Fayette Newspapers since 2011, in addition to running Fayette Game Day magazine. He is a graduate of Fayette County schools, as well as a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in journalism. Follow him on twitter @fayettesports.


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