By Jano Tantongco
The Suffolk County Legislature is attempting to bridge the gap between the county’s youth and its government officials with the Next Generation Advisory Council, a committee of young professionals that will work with the legislature to voice issues and craft legislation.
The council hosted its kick-off meeting last Thursday at Bar Louie in Commack.
James Wesley-Terry, of Wheatley Heights, calls himself Suffolk Legislator William “Doc” Spencer’s “personal IT guy.”
He’s the executive director for Smart Guy Technology, which is based in Wheatley Heights.
Wesley-Terry, 30, was one of dozens of young professionals to attend the kick-off meeting. His goal was not only to market his business, but also to get a pulse on the community.
While there, he met 33-year-old Shaun Barrett, a legislative aid for the Suffolk clerk’s office.
Barrett also operates the video camera during the legislature’s general meetings.
Barrett, of Huntington Station, believed the council would provide a “comfortable atmosphere” for young people to connect and get a sense of what’s going on in local government.
As the two connected, Legislator DuWayne Gregory, presiding officer of the legislature, called the attention of the barroom crowd so that he could introduced the concept of the advisory council.
“We’ve got to give them a seat at the table and give them a forum where they can get their important ideas,” he said. “I’m a person that likes input. I like to keep the lines of communication open, so there’s a two-way communication and we’re not just dictating what’s important, we’re actually getting feedback.”
Gregory recently passed a bill to establish the Next Generation Advisory Council that aims to create a group of 20- and 30-somethings that will have direct access to the legislature through council appointments and networking events.
He said that each legislative district would have an appointee in the council, as well. He hopes the council in its entirety will be fully formed by the end of the year. Part of his goal is to stitch together what he sees as a disconnect between youth and local government.
This was echoed by Raj Tawney, the 29-year-old director of publicity at the Cinema Arts Center in Huntington. There, he makes it his job to help cut and paste the past and future together.
“At Cinema Arts Center, what we try to do is make everyone feel included,” he said.
He believes that younger people tend to leave Long Island and migrate to New York City because they feel a lack of opportunity and connection, that “there isn’t anything here for them.”
“You have to bring people in with things that they’re interested in. It’s a huge crusade of mine to try and bridge that gap,” he said. “If we all got together a little more, we’d realize we’re not that different from each other. And, maybe the young people will feel like they’re wanted here.”
He walked over to Andrea Bonilla, of community liaison for Source the Station, the community relations arm of Renaissance Downtowns, which is the Huntington Station master developer, to expand the conversation.
She said that many young people believe that government seems “inaccessible.” But, she said, she believes initiatives like the youth council and new technology can help create open that door.
“For me, everything I really do is about engaging with every level of government I can and trying to bring everything together,” Bonilla said. “I think our generation should be more involved than we are.”
For more information on the council, including how to join it, call 631-853-5807, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.