Since its inception in September 2019, organizers say, the Joplin Youth Council has sought to better the Joplin community through a variety of service-related initiatives.

The council, which serves as an advisory arm of the Joplin City Council, launched its first event of the academic year on Thursday night with a reading event for children at the Joplin High School Library. The event, complete with Thanksgiving-themed books, arts and crafts, and a book giveaway, served as a kickoff for the council’s goal this year to promote and improve literacy in the Joplin community.

Other literacy-themed ideas this year from the council could include book drives and the formation of a teen book club aimed at instilling a love of reading within the teen population in Joplin.

The council, which was the brainchild of former Joplin City Council member Melodee Colbert-Kean, began with an emphasis on voter education and registration.

Amid a global pandemic, the 2020 council sought to help provide community members in need with hygiene products to help protect them and the larger community from the spread of COVID-19. The council collected about 100 hygiene items and donated them to Watered Gardens.

That project not only benefited the larger community but also instilled confidence within the council that it would overcome the obstacles inherent with the pandemic. The group was forced to abandon regular in-person meetings and instead relied on virtual meetings.

Of all the group’s accomplishments, said Shrihari Nagarajan, the youth council’s chairperson and Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School senior, he is most proud of the perseverance of the group in working toward its goals.

“We were not able to hold in-person meetings last year, but we were still determined to help our community in one way or another,” Nagarajan said.

The council, which is composed of representatives from Joplin High School, Thomas Jefferson and McAuley Catholic High School, provides an opportunity for teens to network with young adults they might not otherwise interact with, all while benefiting the larger community.

“I would definitely say that — having served on the council for two years — that meeting with other students from schools all around the Joplin area has been a great experience,” Nagarajan said. “I’ve had fun working with them, but we also have come together and truly made an impact. I find that very meaningful.”

Youth council members say they are pleased with their interactions and support from the Joplin City Council, including donations from city officials during their hygiene products drive.

First-year member Yasmina Mokhtar said her experience serving on the council has been eye-opening.

“I think it has exceeded my expectations,” said the Thomas Jefferson junior and public relations coordinator for the group. “I knew coming in this was a legit thing — but it’s very legit. It is an actual organization run by the City Council, and we are being included in things. It’s a lot more than I thought it would be. I thought it would just be something fun that I could do in my free time, but it is actually something that is working to impact our community.”

On Dec. 6, the council — which meets twice a month — will report to the City Council with a presentation on its future plans and share an account of its activities so far this year.

Other members of this year’s council are Emma Patterson, Thomas Jefferson, vice chairperson; John Wheeler, McAuley Catholic, secretary; Prithvi Nagarajan, Thomas Jefferson, treasurer; and Calvin Clark and Tiffany Ndauwa, both of Joplin High School.

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