County registrar drums up support for Youth Empowerment Summit

Jesse Salinas wants more young people from Winters to participate in a civic education summit — and he’s making his case now ahead of next year’s event.
Jesse Salinas ACE Chart
FILE: Yolo County Clerk-Assessor-Recorder Jesse Salinas points to a chart on the wall of his office on June 13, 2018. Photo by Matthew Keys

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Jesse Salinas, the Yolo County Clerk-Assessor-Recorder and Registrar of Voters who wanted to craft an initiative that would get more high school teens interested in the voting process and many facets of local government. The program, called the Youth Empowerment Summit (YES), was a bigger success than anyone could have expected — and Salinas is happy to show anyone willing to listen the data that he says proves how successful the initiative was. Surveys conducted before and after the summit showed participants going into the event generally lacked an awareness of how local government worked and felt elected officials generally didn’t respond well to their concerns, but those same questions posed after the event showed different results — teens were more confident that they knew how different facets of local government worked and felt more confident that elected officials were more responsive to their thoughts and ideas. There’s one data point Salinas isn’t crazy about: Of the 72 students who participated in the YES earlier this year, none of them were from the Winters area. It’s a point that bothers Salinas greatly (it has come up more than once during several conversations with the Express over the last year), and last Tuesday, the Registrar of Voters went to the city council to drum up support for next year’s event. “We didn’t have the numbers that we would like,” Salinas said. “You’re a beautiful community out here, and I want to make sure you’re connected to the program we have in my office and make sure the kids benefit from this experience.” The data that Salinas provides shows that kids, in fact, are benefitting from the experience — in large part because the summit is not the typical experience of listening to stuffy, suit-and-tie politicians who talk down to adults. For one, the adults don’t really run the show — the teens do. Right off the bat, participants are asked to vote on what they should have for lunch (photos reviewed by the Express showed pizza was the prevailing choice, with both meat and non-meat options served). Teens learn about how things like the city council and planning commissions work, how items are heard before the Yolo County Board of Supervisors and how to raise concerns at school board meetings, just to name a few. Later in the summit, round table discussions are held with elected officials who are asked to leave partisan politics at home — to the point where the officials are given a grey polo shirt to wear to represent their neutrality during the summit. Winters Mayor Pro-Tempore Wade Cowan was one of the elected officials who stepped up to offer his insight to young participants. “I was a little apprehensive about going, thinking it was going to be a pretty political thing, and it wasn’t, and I appreciate that,” Cowan said. “The [elected officials] sitting at the table [with participants] weren’t always in agreement on what the topic was…but it was still a good discussion with the kids, and I enjoyed it.” Council Member Jesse Loren also attended and said the event not only helped impart civic wisdom on young people but also empowered them to become leaders in their communities. “When they walked out, they had a toolkit after working with so many different [elected officials],” Loren said. At her roundtable, Loren said she met students from various walks of life, some in different stages in their education, and she was able to lend her experience as an educator of 20 years in helping participants craft a plan to further their education and reach their goals. “Maybe it was the luck of the draw that i was at that table, but we were able to give them some plans for the future,” Loren said. “I’m excited to participate again.” But it was Brian Bellamy, a Winters resident who spoke during the public comments portion fo the meeting, who really drove home why the YES was an important event for local youth. “The most-recent election we had was considered a high-participation event,” Bellamy said, noting that 64.7 percent of registered voters in Winters cast a ballot in early November. But just five months earlier, only 38 percent of local registered voters cast a ballot. “It’s gonna take a lot to move the needle,” Bellamy said. “Programs like this is really important in that…kids are going to be more focused on what impacts them, which is the local issues more than the national issues.” That voter participation is precisely why getting Winters youth interested in the summit is important, and Salinas is starting his outreach now with the goal of getting more local students involved in next year’s program. Salinas says he will conduct a presentation before the Winters Joint Unified School District board in February where he hopes the district will become more involved with the summit. Like the 2018 summit, the 2019 summit is scheduled to take place in Woodland, and Salinas is hoping school district officials might be able to assist in providing a bus to shuttle students back and forth. All in all, Salinas said he would like to see 100 students participate in next year’s YES. Registration will be open in January via a new website, YoloSaysYes.com.]]>

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