Fife Youth Commission brings fresh voices to local government

Kelly Phan, a ninth-grader at Columbia Junior High School in Fife, says involving young people in government can improve the community. She believes a new city program will prove those voices can make a difference.

Phan is a member of the city’s new Youth Commission. The group aims to encourage youth participation in government, foster communication between young people and the Fife City Council, and promote leadership skills for participants.

“We are a very large part of the Fife population,” Phan said. “If we’re not represented, then a large part of our community is getting drowned out.”

Councilman Bryan Yambe proposed the commission to the City Council after he was elected in 2013. Upon researching data on Fife residents, he learned that 58 percent of the community is younger than 34.

Yambe, 28, falls in that category as the youngest member of the City Council, and he said it’s important to empower fresh voices.

Despite the younger population, Yambe said the city lacks programs catering to that generation, specifically teens and adolescents.

He hopes the Youth Commission can help change that.

“Lots of times kids and teens don’t feel like they have a voice,” he said. “This commission elevates the ideas and opinions of youths in the community.”

Another commission member, Sieona Squally, said she joined the group to gain leadership skills. She might enter politics when she’s older and said the Youth Commission is a great way to learn more about it.

“I hope to give youth a way to be more involved in their community,” she said. “Everything is so adult-oriented, and they just need to have a different perspective on things.”

The Fife High School junior is also a member of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, and she hopes to bring an additional layer of diversity to city government.

The Youth Commission meets once a month. They’ve had a couple of meetings so far and are working to finalize guidelines and determine leadership roles.

Yambe said members will make formal recommendations to the City Council.

The nine-member commission is open to grades 8-12. A maximum of three members can live outside the city limits, since the Fife School District reaches beyond the city’s boundaries. Home-schooled students may also participate.

“We’re trying to make sure there is a diverse representation,” Yambe said.

He and officials with the Puyallup Tribe and Fife schools, among other entities, have done outreach about the commission. There’s still a vacancy for a high school representative, Yambe said.

Marlyne Johnson, director for career and technical education for Fife schools, helped recruit current members.

“It’s a great opportunity for students to have a leadership role in their community in a different way that’s outside the classroom,” Johnson said.

Other cities in the region have youth government representatives. Yambe was a member of the Federal Way Youth Commission when he was growing up, and he partially attributes his interest in politics to his time with that group.

“All this exposure to government, it sparks the possibilities of what kids and teens can contribute to government,” he said.

Phan said she’s excited about what lies ahead.

“If it’s a success, it will make our community a lot better,” she said.