JEROMESVILLE -- After almost three years of diligent note taking and weeding out the kinks, Jeromesville Mayor Randy Spade has high hopes in sharing the village’s Junior Council program with surrounding areas.
In mid-March, Spade announced the Ashland Community Foundation awarded Jeromesville a $500 grant to expand the program by developing a training for other towns to establish and maintain their own Junior Council programs post-COVID.
“For centuries now, local governments and school districts have been trying to figure out how to keep kids out of trouble,” Spade said. “I think the more important question is: How do we keep them engaged and involved in our communities?”
That question prompted Spade to begin the program in 2018. For the Jeromesville native who became mayor of the small village at only 26, it was “an investment into his community.”
Consisting of 5th to 8th graders from the Hillsdale School District, the group was the first junior council in Ohio to be fully codified into law.
The council meets once a month and operates just as a typical city council functions. The group plans events, talks about new infrastructure, manages budgets and discusses new and possible initiatives.
The junior council has examined a multitude of topics over its short life, ranging from the installation of a new park playground to the funding of mental health iniatives and suicide prevention. Gender equality, homelessness, and food disparity have also been brought to light from representatives of the junior council.
“It was really eye opening to me because you have this fallacy that kids aren’t paying attention to what’s happening around them in their lives, but they are … and they’re good at it,” Spade said. “These kids are noticing and realizing things that are happening around them that adults can’t. And it’s incredibly important that we let them vocalize that.”
The idea for the council was met with criticism initially, with village council members believing the program would die out from lack of interest and involvement.
That couldn’t be farther from the truth, according to Spade. In his eyes, the junior council provides kids the opportunity to take ownership in their community and impact it in ways they might never have been able to without it.
Landon Allis, the junior council’s first mayor in 2018, credits the program with providing him a better knowledge of how government operates.
“We’re constantly seeing all these headlines about what’s going on in politics, and it can be extremely confusing for young people to process what all that means and what’s going on,” he said. “We learn a little bit in school about the three branches of government, but again, it’s just surface level knowledge.
“This is actual experience and it really teaches you a lot.”
When Allis was mayor, the junior council helped with the Blue and White Days festival, organized a small arts festival, installed a new park playground and even visited Ohio leadership to talk about youth involvement in local government.
With the success the group has achieved, Spade is excited to begin pitching to other areas. His goal is to start in Ashland County, where he hopes to initiate programs in all village and city councils. After that, he’ll look to spread to other parts of Ohio.
“My vision is that not only will all these places hopefully have their own Junior Council, but we can all form a sort of connected space for kids in these groups to connect and work together,” Spade said. “They can’t vote in elections, they can’t pay property taxes, but they’re no less citizens of our communities than adults are. This is the vehicle and opportunity to get them to where they want to go.
"Now is not just a time for bolder leadership and innovative thinking in terms what to do with dollars, but what to do with our upcoming generations.”