Government can be an intimidating concept for many people, but the Emmanuel Baptist Church youth group is working to help young people have a better understanding.
Sue and Keith Blake, leaders of the youth group, brought 18 students to City Hall on Tuesday for “Government Day.” The students were then split up into groups, and spent the morning with different department heads, including: Mayor Sam Teresi; Harry Snellings, police chief and director of public safety; Matt Russo, Jamestown Fire Department battalion chief; Julia Ciesla-Hanley, recreation coordinator; John Williams, parks manager; Matt Hanley, assistant to the mayor; Vince DeJoy, director of development; Jim Olson, city clerk; Robert Kenyon, economic development coordinator; Jeff Lehman, director of public works; Becky Robbins, BPU communications coordinator; and Vickye James, director of youth services.
“We got this program off the ground with Carolyn Seymour when she was mayor, that’s when this all started,” said Sue Blake. “It’s been 15-plus years. We figure we usually bring over about 15 kids, but today we actually had 18. All together we’ve brought well over 200 kids.”
According to Sue Blake, some of the kids that had went through the program in the beginning now have kids of their own that have had the opportunity to go through the program.
“What’s so neat about this is that the youth group is a part of the community,” said Sue Blake. “It takes place at the (Emmanuel Baptist) church, and the church is the umbrella, but we have kids from all over the community. There’s a young man that came all the way from Gerry to participate in this program.”
Prior to coming to City Hall, the names of the children that are attending are put into a hat and drawn at random to decide which department head they will spend the morning with. For the children that have been a part of the program in previous years, the Blakes do their best to ensure that they have a unique experience and get to see a new aspect of city government.
“This has just been so inspiring because the kids get to see how the government runs,” said Sue Blake. “It might inspire some of them to stay in Jamestown and work for the city. One of them could be mayor, one of them could be chief of police.”
According to Sue Blake, many of the department heads have had the opportunity to watch the children involved with the program grow up as they come back year after year.
“It’s really neat to see the kids have the opportunity to have a personal connection to the department heads,” said Keith Blake. ” The parents have been really supportive and positive all of these years, too”
“We want to encourage our kids to stay in the area,” Sue Blake continued. “We always hear about how Jamestown has nothing to offer, but these are opportunities that they can see and they can dream about. Someone has to run the city, and it would be great to see any of these kids have that opportunity.”
Following the morning activities, the students were all brought back to City Hall, where they were treated to a pizza party and were given certificates signed by Mayor Teresi, along with souvenirs from the BPU and Youth Services.
Emmanuel Baptist Church is located at 53 23rd St. in Jamestown. For more information, call 487-9860.