Alabaster’s youth leaders attend national conference in Los Angeles

ALABASTER – Mayor Marty Handlon and two teens from the Alabaster Teen Council had the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles July 25-27 to participate in the inaugural Mayors National Youth Summit.

“The only way we were able to take our youth is because United Airlines paid for their flights and the conference paid for their hotel rooms,” Handlon said. “This would’ve been too expensive for the city to pay for. That’s why corporate partnerships are so important.”

Handlon chose Noah Tanner and Abby Grace Walker – veteran members of the Teen Council who have proven themselves to be leaders – to accompany her on the trip.

“They both also participated in Youth Leadership Shelby County, so they’ve gotten to experience leadership at the city, county and national level,” Handlon said.

During the two-day conference, Handlon said they participated in a panel discussion about how to create a culture of service among the youth. Handlon and Walker explained the goals and mission of the Teen Council, which is to develop youth leaders and serve the community.

“They really held their own,” Handlon said. “I think they were surprised at some of the social issues teens are battling in other areas of the country. It’s good that they were exposed to other social issues so they know how to have discussions about it.”

Walker said the conference really opened her eyes to issues going on in other parts of the United States.

“There are much bigger cities with youth who are dealing with much bigger problems,” Walker said. “They’re more passionate about their political views because they have to deal with things that force them to be more political, whereas our Teen Council is more leadership and service based. We really don’t have a lot of those problems because we’re a lot smaller.”

Tanner said it was interesting to see that a lot of the other teen councils take sides on the political field. He said they were exposed to a different side of teen council.

Other panel discussions included discussing the benefits of youth town halls. The teens also divided into work groups to brainstorm ideas and then came back together to report their ideas and concerns.

“The mayors, we were there to listen, not to talk,” Handlon said. “Our purpose was to answer questions, provide insight when needed and to hear feedback. Since it was the first summit, no one knew what to expect but it turned out good.”

A couple of ideas Handlon said she wanted to bring back to Alabaster include surveying the city’s youth to gauge their interests and concerns and hosting youth-led town halls with no adults, teachers or parents present to allow open and honest conversations.

Walker said she liked the idea of peer interviews for those who would like to join the council.

“Right now, we got through an application process, but we don’t do interviews,” Walker said. “If we did interviews that would add an extra layer to the application process. If they interview then you know that they must really want to be there.”

Tanner said he would like to develop a better relationship with the Alabaster City Council.

“I would like for us to sit down and talk to them maybe once a month to learn about what’s going on in the city,” Tanner said. “I’d like for us to be more educated in that regard.”

The three also made time to sight see while in L.A. They grabbed food at In-N-Out Burger, visited the Skyslide, watched the sunset at Griffith Observatory, visited Chinatown to buy souvenirs, went to the Santa Monica Pier and drove down Rodeo Drive.

“Just seeing the cultural differences was so cool,” Walker said. “I’ve only traveled to four other states, and before this trip I had never flown in an airplane.”

Tanner said he especially liked going to In-N-Out Burger.

“It was cool because you see it on Instagram and Snapchat all the time,” he said. “It was one of the first things we did when we touched down. We were going nonstop until we got on the plane going home.”

Tanner and Walker thanked Handlon and the City Council for providing them with the opportunity to participate in the conference.