At the outset of Monday night’s Falls Church City Council meeting, the Council voted 7-0 to confirm the appointment of no fewer than 23 high school students to youth membership on the City’s boards, commissions and civic organizations. The students all came from Falls Church’s George Mason High School.
With proud parents crowding the front of the room to get good angles for the photo opportunities that were provided the students with members of the Council, it was noted that nowhere else in the U.S., to anyone’s knowledge, has a similar program been implemented on such a scale, run entirely by volunteers.
All the students were asked to apply and then vetted by members of the Citizens for a Better City (CBC), Falls Church’s venerable non-partisan civic group, in personal interviews and evaluations. Thus, all the students came highly recommended by the CBC.
The students will be non-voting members of all the groups they asked to serve with and are asked to attend all but closed sessions of the groups to which they’ve been assigned. The current 23 students follow the 17 students who were successfully placed in a similar manner when the program was first introduced a year ago.
Carol Loftur-Thun of the CBC originated and spearheaded the development of the unique program, called the CBC Youth Representative Initiative. It originally came before the City Council for a go-ahead in May of 2014 and last May came the first crop of appointees.
Those CBC volunteers who conducted the student interviews both last year and this year said they were amazed by the intelligence and commitment of the students.
Ken Feltman, one among the 11 volunteers who interviewed the students, said that he challenged the students by saying, “We want you to take a little bit of Falls Church wherever you go, and be civically engaged as a citizen of the world no matter where you are.”
This years’ appointees included 15 young women and eight young men, six rising seniors (meaning they will be seniors at Mason High next fall), 15 rising juniors, a rising sophomore and a rising freshman. The total of 23 will serve on 19 different groups.
The youth appointees and their assignments to City boards and commissions approved by the City Council Monday are: Will Sherard (Architectural Advisory Board), Isabella Flory (Arts and Humanities Council) Bhaskar Singvi (Committee on Transportation), Nathan Holmes (Economic Development Authority), Nuki Giorgadze (Economic Development Authority), Hannah Tauberman (Environmental Sustainability Council), Ti-ka Wallace (Environmental Sustainability Council), Aziz Shaik (Energy Transition Committee), Kat Melara (Cable Access Board), Zander Woods (Cable Access Board), Valentina Anfinogenova (Historical Commission), Camille Borja (Housing Commission), Esther Kim (Human Services), Eema Ahmed (Library Board), Carly Roberson (Recreation and Parks) and Christian Autor (Tree Commission).
Also authorized by the City Council to serve with civic organizations are: Harshini Ravi (AAUW), Hermela Hailemariam (AAUW and Falls Church Education Foundation), Lincoln Orellana (CBC), Kim (Friends of the F.C. Homeless Shelter), Merriweather Gordon (F.C. League of Women Voters), Sarah Maller (League of Women Voters) and Sunita Kavthekar (Village Preservation and improvement Society).
CBC volunteers conducting the interviews of the students were Jerry Barrett, Nancy Brandon, Ruth Brock, Tom Clinton, Michael Connelly, Ken Feltman, Stacy Hennessey, Debbie Hiscott, Lindy Hockenberry, Susan Kearney and Dennis Szymanski.
When the idea was first developed in 2014, the CBC’s executive committee determined that the five goals of the program would be to create opportunities for youth to learn about local government and civics in a hands-on way, to give students opportunities to volunteer in meaningful ways, to enhance students’ college applications, to engage more parents and neighbors in community issues and to demonstrate the City’s commitment to youth by giving them a real voice in decisions.