Applications for New Jersey’s first Youth Council are due soon

The New Jersey State House is seen in Trenton, N.J., Tuesday, June 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The New Jersey State House is seen in Trenton, N.J., Tuesday, June 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Leaders in New Jersey are looking for young people to serve on the state’s inaugural Youth Council and applications are due soon.

State lawmakers say it’s an opportunity for people ages 15 to 23 to participate in the civic process. Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law creating the program at the beginning of this year, and the state must appoint a 44-member council by January 8, 2023.

The Youth Council will consist of four state lawmakers, Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-Hudson), Assemblywoman DiAnne Gove (R-Atlantic), Sen. Mike Testa (R-Cape May), and Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth), as well as 40 youth (one from each of New Jersey’s 40 legislative districts).

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They are expected to meet four times per year to help advise the government on issues relevant to young people in the state.

“While our schools strive to do all they can to teach students about the workings of democratic processes and functions of government, allowing young people to actually sit down at the table and participate in that government, and have the opportunity to take up policies and programs important to them will provide them with invaluable insights and skills as they go forward in life,” Gopal said.

At 36, Assemblyman Bill Moen (D-Camden) is one of New Jersey’s youngest legislators, and speaking from experience, he said the Youth Council can be a life-altering experience for some people. Moen became involved in politics in middle school when he was elected by his classmates to shadow the mayor.

“It really stood out to me as a terrific opportunity, and a first step in service,” Moen said. “And so I think this program, the State Legislative Council, I really wish this was around when I was in middle school and in high school.”

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Moen anticipates the Youth Council may tackle issues like education, college affordability, pathways to home ownership, and concern over social media.

“[Participating and] having that on their resume, I think it could benefit them in other areas of their lives as well, whether it’s applying to certain colleges or graduate schools, or jobs down the line, or even maybe running for office someday,” Moen said.

The program is one of several recent initiatives in the Garden State to promote civic engagement and participation among young people. New Jersey enacted a law last year requiring civic education courses in middle school.

Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) recently reintroduced legislation that would require college students to take a civics course to graduate.

“I think across the nation, we could be doing so much more to engage our younger population,” Moen said.

People interested in joining the council are asked to reach out to their state representative’s office for an application. The deadline to apply varies by district and some, like Moen’s district, have set an application deadline for Dec. 31.

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