Saratoga Youth Commission: a vessel for teen voices

February 8, 2024 — by Sunny Cao
Photo by Bryan Zhao
The latest Youth Commission meeting on Jan. 30.
Serving two-year terms, middle and high school students around Santa Clara voice their opinions on youth needs.

Junior Hillary Gonzalez looks forward to the last Tuesday of every month, a time she huddles with 10 other students around the county who all live in Saratoga to discuss their Youth Commission Projects and give their perspectives to policymakers such as city council members.  

Gonzalez works alongside Justin Chao from Harker, freshman Ovee Dharwadkar from Saratoga High, Lisa Jing from Lynbrook High, Arjun Krishna from Bellarmine, Maggie McCormick from Prospect High, sophomore Bryan Zhao from Saratoga High, Julie Chen from Saint Andrews Episcopal School,  freshman Sia Chowdhri from Saratoga High, Sriya Mukund from Redwood Middle School and Bianca Sutioso from Archbishop Mitty High School. They serve 2-year terms on the Youth Commission, which was established in 1973.

The commission divides its members into smaller youth councils, each focused on an upcoming event or is involved in organizing logistics. Each council is entirely student-run, and administrator analyst Romona McGary oversees each group, helps manage funds and coordinates bigger events. 

The commission is composed of 11 middle and high school students appointed by the Saratoga City Council after an application process. These commissioners plan, promote and participate in community service and other educational activities for the city’s youth. 

The youth commission is further divided into seven youth councils that includes seven different sections: Color Dash,  Registration and Volunteers, Food and Donations, Marketing, Basketball event, Movie Night, SED Talks and a Sustainability Project to make the city more sustainable. A total fund of $4,000 is allocated by the city to host these events. 

Last year, the Color Run had over 400 runners. The various events that the commission plan’s goal is to further encourage communication between and community in Saratoga, targeting anywhere for middle schoolers to the elderly in Saratoga. 

Gonzalez, who is serving her first term on the commission, said her role on the commission and involvement in planning and activities has opened her eyes to the choices both her and her peers have. Her role also presented unexpected opportunities, as she was able to meet various civic leaders in the city, such as County Supervisor Cindy Chavez.

Gonzalez’s group is currently trying to organize a color dash 5k race that will happen on March 24. She meets with her youth council outside the commission to discuss planning and fundraising, which is when most of the planning is done.

“Through Color dash, we’re trying to encourage people to run a 5k race for fun, as well as promote healthy exercise in our community,” Gonzalez said. 

The commission has also previously hosted SEDtalks, an event that gives the community of Saratoga a voice to speak about matters they are concerned about. The commission is also hoping to collaborate with Santa Clara County to host a movie night, which will likely occur in June. A tentative basketball tournament is also being planned. 

“Being on the commission has opened my eyes to what the youth really needs in Saratoga, as well as made me more aware of my surroundings, since I have to act as someone who is a vessel between the youth’s needs and the city council, I’ve definitely learned a lot from being on the council,” Gonzalez said.

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