ELIZABETH, NJ—Earlier today, May 24, Elizabeth students were given the opportunity to observe municipal business as part of the 62 nd Annual Youth in Government Day. This year’s event was chaired by Councilman-At-Large Frank J. Cuesta.
“This unique opportunity provides students with the opportunity to learn about daily operations, participate in the legislative process as well as exchange ideas with City officials,” said Mayor Bollwage. “Some of Elizabeth’s most talented students joined us at City Hall and hopefully this experience will inspire them to become active and concerned participants in government.”
Sponsored by Elizabeth’s City Council, students from the municipality’s public and parochial high schools assumed the positions of local officials during a morning conference in City Hall. This year’s Youth in Government Day included 40 young people from Elizabeth’s public and parochial high schools.
Upon arrival, students gathered in Council Chambers and were assigned to officials. Following introductions, the young people spent a portion of the morning learning job responsibilities from their advisors. The students took an external tour of the city for a first-hand view of the economic development and new initiatives that are occurring.
At noon, they gathered for a luncheon at Dolce Restaurant on South Broad Street in Elizabeth.
As a part of the day’s events, Mayor J. Christian Bollwage, presented the annual Mayor’s Youth of the Year Award to Stephania Gonzalez Mena, an Elizabeth High School Upper Academy senior. Since its inception 51 years ago, the Youth of the Year Award has recognized students for school leadership and community service. Stephania was chosen to receive this award for demonstrating responsible leadership in school organizations and community service.
In a recommendation letter written by her Guidance Counselor, Jecenia Solorzano, she mentions that Gonzalez-Mena is a “meticulous, buoyant and steadfast young scholar who pays close attention to detail, always maintains an optimistic perspective and possesses an unremitting commitment to her academic studies.”
Currently, she ranks number one in her graduating class and aspires to become an attorney with her ultimate goal of one day working for Congress and evoking change. A committee of representative members of the community are assigned the task of selecting one student from the list of names placed in nomination by the principals of the public, private and parochial high schools in Elizabeth. This year’s members included: Jennifer Cedeno, Ed.D, Interim Assistant Superintendent; Mrs. Yvonne Smith, Director of Smith Funeral Home; Donald Johnson, City of Elizabeth Office of Youth Services, Paul Rinaldi, UNICO President; George Castro, Century 21 Realty Agency and Reverend Joseph Adair, executive director of Human Rights Commission.
“This day gives students a sense of responsibility, passion for community issues as well as a forum to hone leadership and communication skills,” said Councilman-At-Large Frank Cuesta. “Participation in the local government process enables young people to experience the positive impact and difference that can be made through public service.”
The activity-filled Youth in Government Day concluded with an afternoon City Council meeting, where the students served as representatives for their assigned City Officials. Each year the Weekly City Council meeting is changed from its usual 7:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. meeting time in order to accommodate the student officials. At the end of the day, the students were presented with certificates of merit for their professionalism and performance throughout the event.