State Youth Council Vineyard members get a taste of policy making

Governor's Statewide Youth Council members Douglas Andrade of Oak Bluffs and Isabella Hazel El-Deiry of Vineyard Haven at the swearing in ceremony last November. — Photo by Leo Frame

Last November at a ceremony in the State House, Governor Deval Patrick swore in members of the Governor’s Statewide Youth Council (GSYC). Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School students Douglas (Doug) Andrade of Oak Bluffs and Isabella (Bella) Hazel El-Deiry of Vineyard Haven represent Dukes County on the advisory group, which is made up of young adults from the state’s 14 counties.

The GSYC meets every two months at a different location throughout the state to work on developing programs and policy aimed towards improving the lives of young people throughout the Commonwealth. Doug was elected chairman of the council at its third meeting last month.

In between meetings the young people participate in conference calls. The members, whose ages range from 14 to 20, are appointed to two-year terms. The two Vineyard representatives will continue their duties while away at school; both will be attending college out of state next fall.

“This is something I really want to be involved in,” said Doug in a recent phone interview. “We all decided that if we’re going to be part of this group we’d make this our first priority after school.”

That’s quite a commitment for a young man who’s currently juggling a number of responsibilities and activities. Doug played fullback and linebacker for the high school football team and served as team captain last season. He’s also a member of the high school sailing team and teaches kids at Sail MV in the summer.

Doug is also president of the group, Young Brothers to Men, “a group of young men looking to make a change in the community,” according to Doug.

For the past two years, the Young Brothers have held a clothing drive and a Thanksgiving food drive. Last year they were able to distribute 60 food baskets to Islanders in need.

Doug first got involved with community service while in the sixth grade. In order to fulfill a requirement for graduation from the Oak Bluffs School, he volunteered to play chess with residents of Windemere. “The requirement was eight hours,” he said. “I think I did 80. I just fell in love with it.

“I think community service should be a part of everybody’s life. I’ve seen kids at the high school who never would have thought they would get involved in community service and they loved it.”

In the fall, Doug said he will most likely attend Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. He plans to study business and Chinese and is considering a premed program. He hopes one day to settle on the Vineyard.

Isabella will be heading to Washington, D.C., in the fall to attend Howard University, where she will major in political science with a concentration in international relations. She was born in the island country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and moved to Martha’s Vineyard as a baby, “My dream job is to move back to the Caribbean and work in the foreign affairs office,” Bella said in a recent conversation.

The ambitious 17-year-old has spent her high school years preparing for that goal. She has been involved in the Martha’s Vineyard Youth Leadership Initiative (MVYLI) for the past 2 ½; years. “We have a summit every summer where you learn what you need to be a leader and to be successful,” said Bella. As part of MVYLI program, teens are given the opportunity to shadow adults involved in various jobs. Bella was able to shadow a woman from John Kerry’s office as well as poet and human rights activist Rose Styron.

Last fall, Bella helped organize an assembly at the high school featuring journalist and civil rights activist Charlayne Hunter-Gault. She has done volunteer work with a women’s shelter in New York and helped out with an Obama fundraiser on the Island.

“A career in government is what I’m interested in for my future,” said Bella, “I thought this would be a great way to jump-start it.”

The issue of youth violence is something that Bella said she is “very passionate about.” For her senior project, she visited a variety of high schools in New York City and New York state. She was saddened by the conditions she observed in some of the schools. “The city schools were really awful,” said Bella, “It was hectic. There were fights. It wasn’t a safe environment where you would feel comfortable learning.”

Bella also has concerns about the effectiveness of current government assistance programs. “What came out of the [senior] project is that I want to focus on people who are dependent on welfare,” she said. “The government isn’t really doing anything to help them. They’re just handing them money.”

The GSYC was created in response to a 2008 outbreak of youth violence in the Greater Boston area. According to a press release, the goal of the council is “to encourage young people to become civically engaged in their local communities and help tackle the state’s biggest challenges, including education reform, youth violence and anti-bullying, by assuming leadership roles.”

The youth council’s current focus is on education and the disparities that exist from community to community.

At the Youth Council’s last conference call, about two weeks ago, the group decided to plan a rally in Boston to support Gov. Patrick’s call for renewed investment in education. The rally is scheduled to take place in early May.

“I’m really happy with the amount of work we’ve done,” said Doug about the council’s efforts. “For us to have done as much as we have already, that’s a huge accomplishment.”