Since the first meeting Jan. 13, members have organized projects to raise money and deliver goods to local organizations, and the council’s initial venture brightened the day of Brighton senior citizens with the delivery of heartfelt Valentine’s Day cards written in Creek.
“We are the next generation and we need each other,” said Brighton Youth Council president Lewis Gopher Jr., 17. “I want us to get involved with the community and be there with the elders.”
Affiliated with United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY), youth councils lay the foundation for a lifetime of service by enabling students to play meaningful roles in helping solve problems in their communities.
In December, Brighton education adviser Vickie Stuart met with students at Okeechobee, Moore Haven and Lake Placid high schools to gauge their interest in participating in a youth council, which allows students to earn community service hours. Florida students need 100 hours to qualify for Bright Futures academic scholarships.
Gopher responded and reached out to friends via Facebook to get things rolling. A dozen students attended the first meeting and the Brighton Youth Council was established.
“He wanted to put one together last year, but too many kids were involved in athletics,” Stuart said. “This group can dedicate their time to it. Lewis wanted it to happen and motivated everyone to take the step to form the youth council.”
In addition to performing good deeds, youth councils teach leadership skills and discipline.
“It prepares them to be better grounded and gives them a sense that they can make a difference in the community,” said Amanda Lowman, education adviser assistant. “When they see they can help others, it will be their ‘aha’ moment.”
At a Feb. 3 meeting, the group hashed out details for the Valentine’s Day delivery, an upcoming basketball tournament and clothing drive.
The double-elimination basketball tournament for ages 8 to 18 will be held March 21. Proceeds from snack bar sales will benefit an Okeechobee charity.
The group discussed where to place fliers around the reservation to promote the event and which organization would receive the donation. Faith Farm Ministries, Real Life Children’s Ranch and the Pregnancy Center in Okeechobee were considered.
The next item on the council’s agenda was a clothing drive. The group decided to distribute collection boxes around Brighton Reservation and donate the items to Real Life Children’s Ranch.
“These are all good ideas,” Gopher told the group. “This is what this group is for. I’m glad we’re doing this.”
Youth council members at the meeting included Gopher; Royce Osceola, vice president; Jayce Smith, treasurer; Allison Gopher, secretary; Crysten Smith; and Jermaine Bennett.
Royce said he believes the Brighton Youth Council will continue to make an impact in the future.
“My mom comes back from every [Tribal] Council meeting all fired up about issues,” he said. “I feel this is the next group to go to those meetings and get fired up.”