Youth Commission builds community in Saratoga

April 21, 2016 — by Katherine Zhou

Saratoga Youth Commision begins to expand presence in Saratoga.

The Joan Pisani Community Center was packed full with elementary school kids, socializing with one another. On March 4, the Saratoga Youth Commission was hosting Parent’s Night Out, an event for kids to have fun and to allow parents to have a couple hours on their own. Upbeat music blasted in the background while some girls threaded necklaces and a group of boys played with footballs and exercise balls.

At the corner of the community center, however, a young girl with long blonde hair sat by herself, afraid of talking to the others. Junior commissioner Mitali Shanbhag, who has served since her sophomore year, sat down with her, and together they made necklaces while Shanbhag encouraged her to socialize. By the end of the event, the girl was comfortable enough to happily interact with the other kids.

“I’m a shy person, and I know that if I were in her position, I would definitely want someone to come up to me and help me open up,” sophomore commissioner Elora Pradhan said. “I’m glad that we were able to be that group of people for her.”

This was one of many events hosted by the commision throughout the year to connect Saratoga youth with City Council.

“We hope to continue the legacy [the Youth Commission] has left behind the past few years by further strengthening our involvement in community events as well as working towards giving the youth that we represent voices in their communities,” Shanbhag said.

Of the 11 members of the Youth Commission, Shanbhag, Pradhan, freshman Charles Debling and Roshan Verma and seniors Daniel Eem and Nupur Maheshwari are SHS students.

“This year, we have focused on activities that allow us to empower [Saratoga youth] to develop the same love that we feel for our city,” Shanbhag said.

Some events the Youth Commission has hosted this year include “Witchy Walk,” a Lunar New Year Celebration, a Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, “Parents’ Night Out,” a blackout dance for middle schoolers, a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, a Color Run and movie nights. Some of the commission’s upcoming events include an Arbor Day Celebration on April 29 and the West Valley College Middle School Dance on May 13.

“We’re trying to give kids a chance to branch out and be more active with the other youth in their community,” Pradhan said.

In the beginning of the year, the Youth Commission holds a joint council meeting, during which they notify the City Council of their agenda. Throughout the year, council members will follow along with their events, check in on meetings, and are informed of what Youth Commission is doing. Mayor Manny Cappello takes input from the Youth Commission, while council members like Rishi Kumar sign up for events like the Color Run.

For example, the Youth Commission was involved with “State of the City,” an event where commissioners teamed up with the City Council to update Saratoga residents on current events in Saratoga, politics and the work that they do.

The Youth Commission meets usually on the second Tuesday of the month at the Warner Hutton House on Fruitvale Avenue. The meetings are open to the public.

“Our mission is to get the youth more involved in the community, so we're always encouraging people to show up at meetings and voice their ideas or opinions or concerns,” Pradhan said. “The voice of the youth really matters to us, and we love hearing everything they have to say.”

The events the commissioners host not only make an significant impact on the community, but also on the commissioners themselves.

“Personally, I feel as though the Youth Commission has given me an opportunity to further my involvement in the city that's given me so much, and I could not be [happier] with what I've learned,” Shanbhag said.

Because of her positive experiences, Shanbhag encourages students who are interested in community involvement to apply for the upcoming school year. Applications for incoming commissioners are available mid-April, and applicants must attend at least one meeting before applying.

Similarly, Pradhan believes that those who want to be more involved in the community and in city matters should apply.

“My entire life up until high school, I’d gone to private school and I was really closed off,” Pradhan said. “Youth Commission was a way I could really open myself up to the community. Even though it may not seem like a big deal, the satisfaction of being able to put on events for kids is definitely a rewarding experience.”

3 views this week