Reading youth commission finally up and running

Jeremy Long, Reading Eagle, Pa.
·4 min read

Mar. 23—Reading City Council believes the future of the city is bright.

Council voted Monday night at its meeting to approve 10 members to serve on the first Reading Youth Commission. The commission, created in 2017, is designed to give the youth in Reading a platform for their concerns with city government. The commission sat dormant for years because no one made appointments to the board until a few months ago.

"I am excited to see younger adults getting involved," said council President Jeffrey S. Waltman Sr. "We need younger involvement in the city. A lot of bright, bright young adults in the city, there's no doubt about that."

The members appointed Monday night were:

— District 1: Kylie Shapiro, 15, and Morgan Hutchinson, 15.

— District 2: Wilma Victoriano, 16.

— District 3: Jonny Division Martinez, 17.

— District 4: Wynton Butler II, 22, Wesley Butler, 19, and Brandom Hernandez Ruiz, 19.

— District 5: Saoni Segura, 21.

— District 6: Genesis Munoz Arias, 21, and Jose Tineo, 20.

Council Vice President Lucine Sihelnik was happy to see the commission finally get off the ground and thanked Deputy City Clerk Michelle Smith for her work so far on the commission.

"This is an incredible opportunity for our youth that want to be engaged, who want to be a voice and bring a point of view and perspective to our decision making," she said. "That is invaluable to us. It's very exciting."

The inaugural meeting is tentatively scheduled for March 31, Sihelnik said.

Councilwomen Marica Goodman-Hinnershitz and Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz and Councilman Stratton Marmarou, members of the nominations committee, interviewed the candidates.

"All the youth we interviewed were stellar," Goodman-Hinnershitz said. "As far as what they have to contribute to the community and what they have already contributed in leadership roles."

Cepeda-Freytiz echoed Goodman-Hinnershitz

"I want to congratulate our young adults," she said. "I'm super-excited about what's to come."

Council's nominations and appointment committee met and interviewed candidates in the fall. Things were put on hold when the committee decided to review it and put the nominees before council.

The commission must have a minimum of eight members but can have up to 15. Members must reside in the city and be between the ages of 14 and 22.

City Council members each nominate two commission members to represent each of the city's six districts. Mayor Eddie Moran will nominate candidates for the remaining seats, which council will have the power to confirm or reject.

Hutchinson was nominated by Moran.

Members will serve without compensation for two-year terms, according to the ordinance creating the commission.

Council can appoint two liaisons to facilitate activities and meetings.

The interviews

When the nominees were interviewed at the end of 2020, they were excited to get involved.

"If students can't communicate to the government we can't get involved," Shapiro said during her interview with the appointment committee. "Some of the kids don't understand what the government helps with. The government always doesn't understand the problems we are dealing with because they are not interacting with people our age."

Tineo wanted to join the youth commission to continue the work he started in high school by connecting families and students to community resources, he said during his interview.

"There is more work that needs to be done with connecting families to resources," he said. "I want to continue to be that bridge."

The youth commission caught the eye of Wilma Victoriano because she saw it as a way to make her voice heard and make a difference.

"I want to make the students of Reading have a voice," she said. "I feel a lot of us feel shut out and don't have the opportunity to make a change. I want to make sure we get a voice and you guys understand the problems we are facing."

Former Reading High basketball star Wesley Butler and his brother Wynton Butler II volunteered to be on the commission as well.

"I have ideas and a vision that I believe can help benefit this community," Wesley Butler said. "If we put our heads together we can create a plan or vision that can benefit this city."

Wesley is running against Marmarou in the upcoming primary election for the District 4 council seat.

Wynton Butler II has already came up with legislation to introduce, he told council during his interview. He wants to create an ordinance that makes ignoring an injustice a crime for police officers and another to end no-knock warrants.

"What can we do to prevent the situation that happened to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the other unarmed people killed by police," he said. "I want to be a voice for the voiceless. A lot of people in the city of Reading need someone to speak up to them.

"Someone needs to give people recommendations on City Council and Mayor Moran. They need someone to bridge that gap and I feel myself and my peers can bridge that gap."