Running a government may sound like a job that's just for adults, but in Kenai, young people play a role as well.
The city allows teen-agers to serve as members of many of its commissions and committees, including the Airport, Harbor, Library and Parks and Recreation commissions and the Beautifica-tion Committee.
'I love being involved in all this kind of stuff. It makes me feel I'm a more important member of our community now. It makes me feel like I can voice my opinion a lot easier if I'm on a board like this, and I'll find out so much more about what's going on the community.'
freshman at Kenai Central High School
The purpose of this is to get young people involved in the city so they can share their opinions and learn what it takes to participate in local government, since their generation will one day be in charge.
"I think it's neat that Kenai has encouraged that in the past and, hopefully, that will continue with students able to be full members of the council," said City Manager Linda Snow. "... We know that they are the next generation of leaders, and it's kind of a civics lesson for students."
Teen-agers who serve on city commissions have the same powers and responsibilities as their fellow adult commissioners. They attend all the meetings, discuss the same issues and their vote carries as much weight as anyone else's.
Currently, there are two newly-appointed teen-agers serving as commission members for the city -- one on the Library Commission, and one on the Parks and Recreation Commission. The Harbor Commission has had a teen-age commissioner as well, but the Library and Parks and Recreation commissions by far have had the most, mainly because those are areas that young people are particularly interested and involved in.
"Kids are a valuable voice for us on all the commissions, but certainly for Parks and Rec," said Bob Frates, director of Parks and Recreation. "There's times they can give a first-hand report from their peer group on issues that are important to them. But they're so involved in the community that just about any project that comes up they have input on."
Frates said the teen-age commissioners he's dealt with have been responsible and took their duties seriously.
"In my opinion, that's a huge commitment for a high school student," he said. "They make their mind up to be involved so they're pretty good about it. I haven't had any problems."
Kendra Steiner, a 14-year-old freshman at Kenai Central High School, recently was appointed to be a commissioner for the Parks and Recreation Commission. Usually student commissioners are juniors or seniors in high school when they apply, so Steiner's age is a bit unusual. But she knew what she was getting into, since her older brother, Sam Steiner, is the commissioner Kendra was appointed to replace. Sam served two years on the commission before he graduated from high school and left Kenai to go to college. Sam encouraged her to apply for the position, and she did so to be more in touch with the city.
"(I applied) mainly because I like to get involved in stuff in our community, and I really wanted to see what all goes on and give my input," she said. "If you're an adult, you don't necessarily get the teen-age, younger adult view. If you have younger and older adults, it makes everything so much better because you have different sides to what you're doing."
Steiner said she plans to get input from her peers on issues and projects the commission deals with so she can represent their points of view as well.
"I'll probably be asking around my school because there are so many different forms of kids that have totally different opinions on stuff," she said. "What I may think is right, somebody else might think, 'whoa, whoa, whoa, that's not what I think.'
"... Every person has so many different opinions about every different subject. (The city) needs to have teens or youths who really care about this kind of stuff. It means a lot that they're actually considering us -- it's not just them running the show."
The first monthly commission meeting Steiner will attend will be in January. Although she is not aware of all the issues and projects she will be dealing with as a commissioner yet, she is eager to jump in and get started.
"I've been ready for a while now," she said. "I love being involved in all this kind of stuff. It makes me feel I'm a more important member of our community now. It makes me feel like I can voice my opinion a lot easier if I'm on a board like this, and I'll find out so much more about what's going on the community."
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