After Luca Paniccia presented the idea of a youth advisory committee to the City of Mission late in 2021, he was forced to move forward without government support.
“We pretty much got shut down,” Paniccia said. “They said they didn’t have the budget or time or effort for it right now. That kind of aggravated me to the point where I decided to just go out and start doing it myself.”
Eventually, he established the Mission Youth Action Group (YAG) in 2021. It’s an independent third-party organization with no political affiliations that advocates for youth. Currently, the Youth Action Group has five board members sitting on its committee.
In December, Mission council deferred payment on the $3,000 grant recommended by staff to be awarded to the Mission YAG. At the Jan. 23 council meeting, the payment was deferred again.
“We’re very optimistic,” Paniccia said. “There’s been a couple of councillors who mentioned that [the application] was incomplete and I’m very thankful for their feedback. I just look forward to actually receiving that feedback on our end.”
Paniccia says the action group will put the grant money towards creating improved leadership programs for youth.
“If the City Council decides that we’re not worthy of it, or if they think that an incomplete grant application is going to stop us from achieving this goal, we will just continue to work harder because this is a needed service in the community.”
In a letter to council, the Mission YAG said there is a detrimental disconnect between council and the youth of Mission.
“I would love to see our city council explain what youth want,” Paniccia said. “They’re working towards understanding it but until they can come talk to us and [outline their plans], I just don’t believe that there’s really a connection.”
The youth council’s objective is to provide youth with leadership skills and an understanding of democratic procedures within a municipality. It plans to provide services to youth ranging from payment for interview clothes to helping them recommend ideas to council and community stakeholders.
The organization classifies youth as people aged 12-23 but services are available to 24 year olds if they are still in college.
“Our scope is pretty wide,” Paniccia said. “We’ve already assisted over 150 families over two years via our ‘Backpacks for Youth’ program by providing them with school supplies with no barriers to entry.”
In addition to the backpack program, the Mission YAG plans on implementing a youth council along with an affordable recreation program.
“For the youth council, we’re going to recruit young people from each of the schools, give them a bunch of leadership training, let them know how to lead and how to talk to people,” he said.
The group will ask its youth councillors to collect feedback from classmates about the school district, the city, required programming, and other needs.
The Mission YAG is also planning to launch another program later in 2023 to help youth gain access to more recreation.
“Recreation in Mission costs too much for youth,” Paniccia said. ”The new initiative will provide them with an opportunity to volunteer for a recreation pass. We’re working with local businesses and we want to essentially subsidize the cost of recreation for all youth just by being leaders in the community and by volunteering their time.”
The top issue Mission YAG is advocating for is changes to the youth centre. Paniccia says expanding the centre’s hours would prevent some youth from getting into trouble.
“It’s a great facility and it’s been a huge increase from what we’ve had before but it’s simply just not enough,” Paniccia says. “There’s not enough youth workers and they aren’t being trained properly. If there’s a youth in crisis, they won’t necessarily understand how to appropriately deal with that.”
Paniccia also identified the high costs of rent as a major issue for the older sub-section of young people that the Mission YAG supports.
For more information about the youth action group, visit their website.