Youth Take the Lead in Thomaston, Georgia
The Thomaston Housing Authority wins a 2019 Award of Excellence in Resident and Client Services for their dedication to overseeing a Youth Advisory Council (YAC). Nominated from among the NAHRO Awards of Merit winners each year, the Awards of Excellence winners are chosen by national juries and honored at the annual National Conference and Exhibition in October. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development.
In 2016, the Executive Director of the Thomaston Housing Authority (THA) established a Youth Advisory Council (YAC) to give youth in Thomaston-Upson County a voice in the decision-making process. Acting as part of the THA Resident Advisory Council, the YAC provides members with an opportunity to express their ideas and concerns.
For instructional training purposes, THA uses the University of Georgia Fanning Institute’s Youth Leadership in Action curriculum. The YAC has its own by-laws, which establish guidelines for its activities. Leadership positions include president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, parliamentarians, and a reporter. The council includes middle-high school students from each THA development. Students come from public, private, and continuation schools.
Once a month, YAC members meet to conduct business regarding youth issues within the housing authority and in the city. They meet with the Executive Director (ED) or an appointed representative. The ED and the Resident Council work only in an advisory capacity to assist YAC members in accomplishing their goals. For example, with support from their advisors, the YAC organized several college tours and cultural diversity education trips. The council fundraised approximately $2,500 to make the trips a reality.
The YAC prioritizes “giving back” to the older adults in their community. With support from their Adult Advisors, the council received a $1,000 grant for the Karma for Cara Foundation. The grant allowed them to host a Senior Prom for older adult and disabled residents of THA. Residents were excited to participate in the event. One resident explained, “This meant so much to me because I never had the opportunity to attend my high school prom.” The council expressed their care for the residents in attendance through providing exceptional food, music, dance, and conversation.
YAC members also dedicate time to visit the four elderly facilities in the City of Thomaston. They spend three hours each month doing activities with the patients in one of the facilities. Typical activities include bingo, checkers, cards, and reading. Both the YAC members and the patients enjoy the time they spend together.
The group also focuses on youth health initiatives. YAC members attend a Partnership Against Dating Violence Youth Summit each year to learn about youth issues regarding dating violence. They also raise awareness about the negative impacts of tobacco use by observing Kick Butts Day, Great American Smokeout, and Red Ribbon Week.
Through their activities, the YAC contributes to the Thomaston Housing Authority’s positive reputation. Members attend the Georgia Association of Housing and Redevelopment Authorities (GAHRA) Youth Leadership Conference each year, where they learn more about leadership and life skills. In 2017, the YAC won the City of Thomaston Chamber of Commerce Community Service Award for collectively performing over 500 hours of community service.
The YAC costs approximately $,1500 to operate annually, depending on each year’s planned activities. Members find creative ways to fundraise and support their activities. For example, they sell charity tickets several times a year through BELK Store – their biggest supporter and partner. The YAC receives all proceeds from ticket sales and a portion of the sales from the event. Fundraising efforts in past years also included yard sales and car washes.
YAC members hope to continue finding ways to improve the Thomaston community. For their next project, they would like to construct a Little Free Library at each THA development. The YAC is an excellent example of a housing authority’s potential to empower and engage their youth residents.