Donaldsonville teens sat down last week to talk about issues affecting them and their community.
The abuse of synthetic marijuana and prescription drugs and how to improve local recreational facilities was up for discussion.
It was all part of one of the first teen town hall meetings in nearly 20 years.
Sporting T-shirts that read “Product of Donaldsonville,” the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council assembled at the Donaldsonville City Hall on Dec. 22.
The Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, which first formed in 1995, was disbanded in 1996. Elections were held for a new council in April. The purpose of the council is to advocate and represent the youth of Donaldsonville, said Tamiko Garrison, the council coordinator.
To begin the meeting, Tamiko Stroud, the president of the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, greeted residents and welcomed the youths in attendance. Stroud said that she and her team of leaders want to help create a better, drug-free future for the youth of Donaldsonville.
“The (drug-related) problem we have is a current problem,” Sullivan said.
Allison Hudson, public information officer with the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, led a discussion on the use of mojo, a term for synthetic marijuana, and prescription drugs.
“This is a something that is serious and is killing teenagers every day,” Hudson said.
Hudson showed the music video “No More Mojo,” which was released by Capital Area Human Services and performed by Ivan Toldson, aka Love-N-Pain. The song, which is circulating in the school systems, describes mojo as a poison.
“The reason they say it’s poison is because no one knows what’s in it. That can kill you,” Hudson said. She gave information on the different types of synthetic marijuana, symptoms that can occur after its use and stories of people who have overdosed on mojo.
Different brands of mojo have been banned in Louisiana; however, some brands are still being marketed in gas stations, Hudson said.
“Just say no,” Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office Capt. Ricky Bergeron said. “It does not make you a nerd; it makes you a leader.”
Garrison opened the floor for discussion and asked teenagers in the audience for suggestions to raise awareness of the abuse of mojo and prescription drugs. Participants suggested more teen town hall meetings and additional promotion of the council on social media.
Following the drug abuse discussion, Oliver Joseph, Ascension Parish District 1 councilman, facilitated a discussion on recreational facilities.
Ascension Parish has volunteer baseball and basketball programs with approximately 380 youths enrolled, Joseph said. “That’s it: baseball and basketball. We don’t have anything else. We need your input. Start fighting for it,” Joseph said.
Both sports programs are short on personnel, Joseph said.
“The basketball court is in a real bad area, between two nightclubs,” Joseph said.
Young people asked for a program similar to that in Baton Rouge, with paid staff facilitating programs. Students also voiced a desire for a water-spray park, a skateboard park like those found in Gonzales and an update to the old Donaldsonville school gym.
Garrison and Joseph both encouraged students to voice their opinions to government leaders, saying government requires action on behalf of its citizens.
“If you don’t vote, you can’t get what you want,” Garrison said.
The Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council is meant to bring the inner workings of local government into the sphere of the youth of Donaldsonville, Garrison said.
“This is to teach you exactly how the system works. When there is an adult town hall meeting, bring your parents. When there is a teen town hall meeting, bring your friends and peers,” Garrison said.
In addition to the talks by youths, Mayor Leroy Sullivan addressed the teens and an award ceremony was held to honor students from Ascension Catholic High School and Donaldsonville High School who scored a 30 or above on the ACT. Award recipients were Zachary Capello, Landon Daigle, Hunter Daigle, Lee Landry, Falcon Mire and Jason Williams.
“I am a product of Donaldsonville. They are products of Donaldsonville. And you will be proud to know that they are our future one day,” Sullivan said.
At the next teen town hall meeting, set during the Easter break, the topics to be discussed include violence and economic development, Garrison said.
In April, elections will be held in the high schools for the council. The newly elected council will comprise four students from Ascension Catholic High School and four students from Donaldsonville High School, Garrison said.
“These are your future leaders,” Hudson said.