HELENA — Teens from across the state gathered at the Capitol on Friday Nov. 22 for the 6th Annual Youth Leadership Council to Fight Childhood Hunger in Montana.
The 21 young leaders learned about food insecurity in the state, participated in leadership development and project management training and began planning projects to address childhood hunger in their communities.
Governor Bullock thanked the teens for their service and challenged them to keep fighting to end childhood hunger for as long as there is a need.
“When I first came into this office seven years ago I wanted to solve childhood hunger, but I’m not going to be able to do it,” said Bullock. “I only have about one more year in this job, but I also know we have you all. You have a voice that can be more impactful than mine in your communities.”
Bullock explained that the projects the students are working on have the potential to have a lasting impact on their area and lives of those that live there.
Since 2014, Youth Leadership Council members have raised over $64,000 through 174 different service projects. That work has helped nearly 10,000 Montanans in the process.
“I will end up counting on you all to solve childhood hunger,” said Bullock to the Council members. “Recognize that even after your terms of service on this council, that the needs are still there and you’ll still have an incredible opportunity to bring a voice to address [childhood hunger].”
Students MTN spoke with said there is no denying that food insecurity is a real issue in Montana that needs to be addressed.
“There are hungry kids out there and that we can’t just keep neglecting them like we have,” said Zyanne Cervantes of Townsend. “There’s too many out there and these kids need to be fed.”
Montana counties containing American Indian reservations have a food insecurity rate up to five percent higher than the state average.
Youth Council members said that can change though, people just need to speak out.
Rocky Boy High School student Kodee Henderson said, “Your voice can be heard, it’s alright to speak up.”
“Indians can make change and Native Americans are starting to get more of a voice, said BreeAnna Polk of Browning. “I plan on spreading awareness to not just my classmates, but to my community that we have dinners available and there’s breakfast available at all the schools for the kids to eat there. There’s food out there if you just reach out.”
“If you’re old or young, there’s a lot of ways you can make a difference,” said J’Leanna Raining Bird of Box Elder. “Every little step is important.”
Browning High School Sophomore Mara OldPerson said, “It’s okay to speak out. No child should be going hungry.”
Many students believe there are many ways of making significant strides to fight food insecurity in the state, but they can’t do it alone and need help to make it a reality.
“Childhood hunger is a big problem that a lot of people know about, but they don’t really do anything about it,” said Kaden Heller of Reed Point. “We can open adults' eyes. If it comes from kids themselves, they’ll see the problem.”
“I want to be involved and help my community be in a better place than it is right now,” said Helena Middle School student Gabriela Jimenez.
“You have a voice,” said Madalen Shipman of Dillon. “Stand up, volunteer and help out.”
“It doesn’t have to be something big,” said Billings West High School Senior Carly Byrne. “I think a lot of people when they see a huge problem they think it needs to be attacked, and that’s going to be so much work and so much money. It really doesn’t have to be like that. It can just be small steps and it will make a big difference for a lot of people.”
More information about the Youth Leadership Council and how to fight childhood hunger in Montana can be found here.