Youth council sets sights on Main Street mural


JASPER — A group of the youngest decision-makers in Jasper aims to have its work displayed in a big way.

Since forming in April, members of the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council have discussed what projects they could lead that would enhance life for all ages in Jasper.

The group has since landed on bringing a gathering space and interactive mural to Main Street that highlights the community’s diversity — both culturally and in its wildlife.

“This group excites me about the future,” said Mayor Dean Vonderheide. “Every one of them is community-conscious. I think they’re all doing it for the right reasons. They want to contribute to the community.”

The location of the downtown building that the mural will be painted on has not been finalized, and the seven members of the youth council are assembling a project outline that will be used to apply for grant funding. Those funds would cover at least part of the costs of the project.

The artist — or artists — and mural design have also not yet been determined. Vonderheide said he hopes the project is completed by the end of the school year, if not sooner.

The leadership council’s mission is to empower the student leaders in Jasper with engaging service opportunities that aspire to benefit the entirety of the Jasper community. The coed outfit of Jasper high schoolers is culturally diverse, and also features a distribution of sophomore, junior and senior students.

Members are Deisy Sandoval, Edwin Sanchez, Catherine Garcia, Ben Kizior, Lauren Verkamp, Avery Bartley and Noah Hanneman. New membership applications for this school year will be accepted through Friday, Aug. 23.

Vonderheide was part of Jasper’s mayor’s youth council when he was in high school. He restarted the outfit to both create an avenue for students to learn about municipal government and gather their input on various city matters.

That involvement could also have another side effect.

“I feel like retention of our youth is important,” Vonderheide said. “And if I can get them engaged and feel like they have a voice in the city, then I think that would go a long way to having our kids come back.”

Megan Burger, the group’s former president, joined as a senior and will soon begin school at Bellarmine University. She said her involvement on the council helped her grow as a leader.

“It definitely was a new experience for me,” she said. “I do feel like I have learned some lessons from being the leader over the group, and I also think it just helps a lot with teamwork, too.”

Edwin is a junior student who serves on the council. He said he has learned more about the inner workings of government, and plans to keep learning as the group’s project moves forward. He likes the idea of leaving a mark on his community.

“It’s gonna really feel great,” Edwin said. “I think it’ll make me feel better whenever I go to college. I’ll feel like I accomplished something here that I can leave behind for other people.”

Vonderheide is excited about the group’s potential. In addition to the gathering space and mural, members also explored other potential projects, like an ultimate Frisbee area, skate park, off-road bike trails, and picnic table and park improvements. Those ideas could be revisited by the youth leadership council or other city entities in the future.

Overall, Vonderheide has been pleased with his young council members’ go-getter attitudes.

“I’m encouraged with their enthusiasm,” Vonderheide said of the group. “And their initiative. They’ll take the initiative to do it. And I’m just really encouraged by that.”

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