"Any kids who say there's nothing to do in Des Plaines haven't heard of the youth commission," said Josaphine Al-Naemy, a board member on the Des Plaines Youth Commission.
"When my kids were in high school, they didn't have anywhere to go here in Des Plaines," she said. "Now, we have these very active kids who want to do things. They're tired of saying there's nothing to do. Instead, they say we know what we want to do, let's get the funds, get places [to host events] and make it happen. They're an incredibly active generation."
The commission is a city-funded organization that seeks to create safe social opportunities for junior high and high school students. It funds and organizes monthly city-wide events that draw 200-400 people.The budget was once $15,000, but due to the recession, it was cut to $7,000 this year.
Board member Mary Dankowski said while the organization can accept donations, it is prohibited from fundraising. This mean a lot of creativity and careful budgeting for events.
"The whole idea is to give families something to do in their own town," said Bob Neil, another board member. "You don't have to drive to Chicago, it doesn't have to cost you a whole lot of money. We provide bounce houses, obstacle courses, really active things that are fun."
The youth commission started as the Des Plaines Safety Council, a board investigating accidents involving young people. In time, the safety council evolved into a provider of funds.
"If your kid is at a school [that] wanted to take a field trip, you'd send a request to us and we'd send you, say, $500 to cover expenses," said Neil. "That was getting kind of ridiculous. We decided we should be doing things for the entire community, not just funding individual activities."
"That's when we started the youth advisory board where the kids could come up with their own ideas about what they thought kids in town would actually like to do," he said.
"The kids know what they want to do; we make it happen," said Al-Naemy.
The youth advisory board is staffed with junior high and high school students. "Once the kids come up with ideas, we come up with a budget. The kids plan it, then the adults assist in putting it together, but the kids staff the events. Our kids are really involved. They do one heck of a job," said Neil.
The youth commission's upcoming events include the annual Family Night at Prairie Lakes Community Center.
"I have four kids. I love coming to these family night events because they have a little bit of everything for kids to do," said Susana Pociejewski, the parent of a Des Plaines student who is considering joining the youth advisory board. "Not only do they have the activity rooms, but they also have the bouncy house and everything in the gym."
"Because you know folks are local, you feel safe with the kids moving around the differnet stations," she added. "My kids always enjoy coming to this because they get to connect with other kids from other schools who they don't normally see."
The next family night outing takes place on Nov. 20. Admission is $5 for a family of four and $1 for each additional person. Food and sodas are included along with games, bounce houses and other activities.
The youth commission also sponsors a co-ed high school softball league on Saturday nights, a 3-on-3 basketball tournament in December and a Friends Connect series for special needs teens.
"Our kids are incredible," Dankowski said. "Colleges and scholarships really want to see kids in a leadership position. Joining the youth advisory board gives them real-world experience shaping their community."
Junior high and high school students interested joining the youth advisory board can write Dankowski at email@example.com.