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Friday, Mar. 22, 2013

Olathe teen brings government experience to national stage

Special to The Star

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Hannah Leiker is taking her city government expertise to the national level.

And she can’t even vote yet.

The 17-year-old Olathe resident recently earned an appointment to the national Youth, Education and Families Council, which is a division of the National League of Cities. Only six high school juniors and seniors are chosen for the honor.

The council meets three times a year, giving the high school students an opportunity to serve alongside elected officials, educate youth and discuss city issues such as infrastructure and youth education.

“I really want to use this opportunity to showcase how Olathe is successful, because we have such great schools and parks and recreation programs,” said Leiker, a junior at St. Thomas Aquinas. “But it is also important for me to be able to bring ideas back to Olathe.”

In addition to glowing recommendations and a well-written essay, it was her Teen Council experience which earned Leiker the prestigious position.

Teen Council is a community-service based organization run by the city that gives high school students an in-depth look at what goes on behind the scenes of local government.

During her past three years on the Teen Council, she has taken tours of city departments, volunteered at important functions and met with city leaders.

She has also sat on the Parks and Recreation Board for the past two years and the Olathe Library Board for three years.

“I’ve had a passion for politics since I was in sixth grade,” Leiker said. “Being on the Teen Council has been so much fun. The Olathe City Council is so great at supporting youth and encouraging them to get involved.”

City leaders praise Leiker for her enthusiasm, which has helped inspire younger kids to follow in her footsteps.

“We’re very proud to have Hannah represent Olathe on a national level,” said Jamie Shockley, the adviser for the Teen Council. “She is one of the most mature, hard-working girls I’ve ever met and a great representation of the kind of youth we have in Olathe. She’s also a great role model and some of the younger Teen Council members are already taking an interest in applying for the Youth, Education and Families Council in the future.”

Members of the national council got to know each other at their first meeting this year in Washington, D.C., in mid-March during the National League of Cities conference. They’ll have another meeting in Washington in late June and a final meeting in Seattle in November.

Leiker has already become friends with the other students on the council and corresponds with them through e-mail and texting.

“Some of the seniors offer college advice and it’s funny because we all want to apply to the same schools,” she said. “We all have the same motivation and drive, which puts us on the same page. It’s really cool to meet other people who share the same interests as me.”

And while many of the teenagers she has met on the council plan to make politics a career, Leiker still isn’t sure what her future has in store.

She’d love to get a degree in political science, but she’s also talented in math and science.

“I’ve grown so much and learned communication and leadership skills from my experiences that will help me with any career,” she said. “Even if I don’t pursue city government, I will definitely still be involved in it through some aspect my entire life, whether it’s sitting on a board or attending City Council meetings. I think it’s very important for people in the community to get involved.”

For now, she’s just doing what makes her happy.

She hopes to present her recent ideas and notes from her first Youth, Education and Families Council meeting to the governing body at one of the next Olathe City Council meetings.

“I love the city of Olathe and I am so thankful for the opportunities they offer kids to get involved in city government,” Leiker said. “I feel really lucky to live here.”

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