About 25 students with coffee and hot chocolate in hand gathered around the mini-stage inside Metro Coffee Company on Thursday night and voiced their thoughts about the community to Casper Vice Mayor Ray Pacheco.

Some of their comments were light-hearted, such as an idea for a city-wide art competition for youth and a request to have more affordable activities offered downtown.

Others were more serious.

One teen was worried about the prevalence of drug use in schools; another expressed a similar concern about bullying. One boy said he was upset that law-enforcement officers don’t always arrest and charge teenagers when they get caught breaking the law.

“I think it’s wrong,” he remarked.

The questions and comments were random and wide-ranging, which is exactly what the vice mayor intended for the first youth town hall.

As the regional director for Gear Up — a program at Casper College that helps students successfully transition to college life — Pacheco said he spends enough time with the city’s younger residents to know they have valuable input to offer their communities.

“I think sometimes kids do get a bad rap, but I’ve always felt like the youth are a lot wiser than we give them credit for,” he said.

On Tuesday night, he assured the town hall attendees that he will be relaying their thoughts back to City Council, and encouraged them to take active roles in their community by volunteering or joining the Youth Empowerment Council.

“I hope that this is the first day of the rest of your life to change this community,” he said.

The empowerment council, which helped the vice mayor organize the event, strives to improve the community through various events and projects, such as giving presentations about bullying awareness at schools.

Kayla Morrison, the chair of the empowerment council, told the crowd that they were all welcome to attend a meeting, which take place every Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Mercer Family Resource Center.

Many attendees gave positive feedback after the event concluded.

Given that it can be nerve-wracking to suggest ideas or concerns, Emily Palmer, 17, said she was impressed by how many teens chose to voice their thoughts.

“There were some really great ideas,” she said.

Shawon Iszler, 17, said the event went “really well” and urged more government officials to engage with the youth by explaining political issues in simpler terms.

Pacheco said Friday that he considered the event to be a success and planned to stay in touch with those who attended to help them with their goals.

Another Youth Town Hall is in the works for January, he added.

Katie King covers the city of Casper.

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Katie King joined the Star-Tribune in 2017 and primarily covers issues related to local government. She previously worked as a crime reporter in the British Virgin Islands. Originally from Virginia, Katie is a graduate of James Madison University.

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