Hampshire County youth tapped to advise governor’s team

Haliyah Friedman-Kassis of Northampton is a member of Gov.  Healey’s Youth Advisory Council.

Haliyah Friedman-Kassis of Northampton is a member of Gov. Healey’s Youth Advisory Council. GOVERNOR’S OFFICE

Quinn Speek of Belchertown is a member of Gov.  Healey’s new Youth Advisory Council.

Quinn Speek of Belchertown is a member of Gov. Healey’s new Youth Advisory Council. GOVERNOR’S OFFICE

Gov. Maura Healey’s and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll recently swore in members for their new 60-member Youth Advisory Council. The council will advise the governor and her team on issues important to youth.

Gov. Maura Healey’s and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll recently swore in members for their new 60-member Youth Advisory Council. The council will advise the governor and her team on issues important to youth. GOVERNOR’S OFFICE

By XINYI YANG

Boston UniversityStatehouse Program

Published: 04-13-2024 2:30 PM

Three Hampshire County students are among 60 young people statewide who will advise Gov. Maura Healey and her administrative team on issues important to young people as members of the newly minted Youth Advisory Council.

The young people, ages 16-21, were sworn in for two-year terms by Healey and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll late last month in a special ceremony on Beacon Hill. Joining the council from Hampshire County are Haliyah Friedman-Kassis and Jade Rousseau, from Northampton, and Quinn Speek of Belchertown. Franklin County’s representative is Christiana Dunn from Orange.

Students chosen submitted letters of interest and recommendations, including experience in previous councils in schools and what they would like to accomplish on the council, according to Marcony Almeida-Barros, Healey’s deputy chief of staff.

“We hear from young people all the time about the issues that matter to them most — everything from climate, to education, to mental health, to gun violence,” Healey said in a statement. “This advisory council opens up the door for conversation, recommendations and action. I look forward to working with each and every single member as we work together to make Massachusetts more affordable, competitive and equitable for all.”

Some of the issues the governor will be looking to get input from the new council on include youth violence, housing, mental health, education and civic engagement, as well as participation in political decision-making.

Healey said she’s been inspired by the young people she’s met who are making their voices heard and demanding more from their leaders on the most pressing issues facing Massachusetts.

“They deserve a seat at the table,” said Healey.

The seeds for Friedman-Kassis’ advocacy were planted during high school and as a member of Northampton’s Youth Commission, where she helped orchestrate a forum with state Sen. Jo Comerford, Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and other community leaders to give youth a chance to discuss issues of their foremost concern. For Kassis, 16, the forum served as a safe space for female-identifying students and for AFAB (assigned female at birth).

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“That was a big moment for me, especially in the last election cycle,” said Friedman-Kassis.

Her gaze soon shifted to the broader national issues, where the strands of reproductive rights and immigration crises come together. For example, the overturning of Roe v. Wade encouraged her to insert her voice into the national narrative. According to Friedman-Kassis, young people still face several challenges to obtain resources, even though Massachusetts is a state that could protect women’s autonomy and right to choose.

Additionally, she advocates for increasing state budget allocations for education, aiming to ensure that her generation does not fall behind academically.

“We must demonstrate our dedication to individuals with restricted options and enhance the dissemination of information about the protections available to youth, like enhancing the health and wellness curricula in public high schools throughout the state,” said Friedman-Kassis.

Since she was 12, Speek, 17, has been drawn to the call of leadership. She has found her way through community and leadership groups in Hampshire and Franklin counties.

As a member of both Leaders of Today Council and Shout Out since October 2021, Speek is excited to make her voice heard as a member of the Youth Advisory Council.

Her interest in mental health was personal and informed, pointing to her own therapy experiences and the broader challenges faced by youth today, which are exacerbated by social media and societal pressures, the anxiety from school and more.

“I feel there needs to be more support with young people, because therapy is expensive,” which means it is hard to be a long-term solution, “and it shouldn’t be something that people should pay a lot” for, said Speek.

In 2023, about 11.5% of youth, translating to more than 2.7 million individuals, experienced severe depression, and 16.39% of youth ages 12-17 reported suffering from at least one major depressive, reflecting the significant impact of mental health challenges among American youth, according to the data of Mental Health America.

Another big issue that captured Speek’s attention was climate change.

Balancing an ambitious academic and extracurricular schedule, Speek is involved in sports, works part-time at a supermarket, participates in school clubs and prepares for university applications while enrolled in an International Baccalaureate program. This busy schedule verifies her ability to manage a rigorous workload while still dedicating time to leadership and community service.

Rousseau could not be reached for this story.

Xinyi Yang writes for the Gazette from the Boston University State House program.