By Mary M. Kolar, District 1, Dane County Board Supervisor
We see it all over the news: politicians courting the youth vote, social movements and nonprofits run by Millennials, and an overall increase in the level of social connectedness. Our country’s youngest generations are rightfully demanding to be heard. This increase of the Millennial generation and younger voices is not something to fear; it is something to embrace and foster for the good of our community. By listening to what younger people have to say, we are investing in our community’s future. This belief is shared and supported by University of Wisconsin Extension programs and particularly through the Dane County Youth Governance Program. This program places Dane County youth on the six standing committees of the Dane County Board of Supervisors.
The Dane County Youth Governance Program facilitates hearing the youth voice in local government and provides leadership opportunities to Dane County High Schoolers. Each Youth Governance Program member is paired with a Board Supervisor who serves as a mentor to the student for his or her entire year of service. The current cohort of 14 high schoolers represent Verona, Mount Horeb, Madison, Middleton, Mazomanie, Sun Prairie, and Cottage Grove. They are learning about local government and bringing a youth voice to the table. Dane County UW-Extension 4-H Youth Development Staff facilitate this program each year. They provide support and education to enable the connections between what students do in their committees and the real life impact their decisions have throughout Dane County.
This year, the program is focused on the impact the program has on the level of social connectedness and social capital the participants make. For example, what is the significance of their connections with adults and peers in the program? A partnership was developed with the University of Wisconsin’s School of Human Ecology Graduate Consulting Group and postdoctoral researcher, Mariah Kornbluh, to evaluate the level of social networks created over a year’s time and the impact these networks have on individuals and the program as a whole. The results of these findings are expected to be reported at the end of the program year.
We who support this program understand that investing in young people and fostering their leadership ability is ultimately investing in Dane County’s future. We are living in a time where there is a national increase in young people’s interest in social issues and government. It is in everyone’s best interest to support this trend. I have spent my career both before and during my time on the County Board mentoring our nation’s future leaders. I know that the best leaders are those who make sure that the issues they believe in will continue to be fought for long after they step down. UW Extension’s Dane County Youth Governance Program is one I strongly support. I look forward to seeing the future great accomplishment of the young people who have participated in this Dane County government program.