Gainesville Sun: Kim A. Barton: Create culture of engagement for young residents

Special to The Gainesville Sun 

I came to Alachua County in 1983, and in the 35 years since, it became my home.

It was here that I met my husband, James — himself a native of Alachua County. I found a church family. I watched my niece, who moved here from Oklahoma to attend college, get married and start her own family.

At 21, I’m not sure I would have predicted that this would be my lifelong home. Like students and young people today, I was too busy with school and sorting out what it meant to be independent and on my own.

Nevertheless, Alachua County welcomed me and took me in as one of its own. Through the years, the people with whom I crossed paths were gracious in allowing me to be part of this community.

In recalling this, I encourage you to do the same for young people today.

The University of Florida and Santa Fe College — and their respective populations of young people — provide our county opportunities for growth that some other Florida counties do not have. They are a large part of the reason why where we live is so lively and vibrant. Of equal importance are the young people from Alachua County who make the choice to stay and live here.

All of them are in Alachua County at a time in their lives when their views on what it means to live in a community are being shaped.

Knowing this, we must set a good example by creating a culture that promotes engagement and allows everyone (young people included) to feel comfortable and compelled to participate and have their voices heard.

If you are part of a faith group or community organization, I urge you to invite young people to be part of the decision-making process. Seek out their opinions. Every step I made in becoming more established in the Alachua County community came as a result of someone offering me a chance to be a part of something.

My office recently began a commitment to the infusion of ideas and energy from young people by establishing an internship program. Guerin Frei and Olivia Page, both UF freshmen, started in early January working about 10 hours a week. Already, they have developed exciting new ideas for the Vote Alachua team to implement. The two, working together, have helped redesign our office’s logo and researched the history of voting in Alachua County, which will be used to create an interactive display in our office.

As we do every year, we’ll be going to local high schools to conduct our voter education and registration program, during which we discuss the importance of voting, interact with voting equipment and register students to vote. In Florida, you can pre-register to vote at 16 and your registration becomes active when you turn 18.

In my role as Alachua County supervisor of elections, I’m committed to our county being the best place in Florida to cast a ballot. And as a fellow member of this community — and one who was not born here — I’m committed to recognizing and seeking out the value that young people offer.

I encourage you to share your ideas for how to make Alachua County a better and more engaged place to live. My email is kbarton@alachuacounty.us and my phone number is 352-374-5252.

Kim A. Barton is the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections. Located in suite 300 of the Josiah T. Walls Building at 515 N. Main St. in Gainesville, the Supervisor of Elections’ office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Its website is VoteAlachua.com.