Introducing Natalia Gonzalez and Cesar Castillo: They are the hope and the future of a younger generation. They are teenagers who are growing up in Miami Springs who happen to also be Miami-Dade County youth commissioners.
Natalia Gonzalez is a 10th-grader at MAST Academy. Natalia attended Young Women’s Preparatory Academy for middle school and spent her elementary school days at Blessed Trinity. She serves as youth commissioner for District 12, which includes the communities of Doral, Hialeah, Hialeah Gardens, Medley, Sweetwater, Virginia Gardens, and a large portion of unincorporated Miami-Dade County. She serves with Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz as her mentor.
Cesar Castillo is an 11th-grader at Miami Springs Senior High School. Cesar attended Miami Springs Middle School and is currently serving his second term as District 6 Miami-Dade County youth commissioner. District 6 includes areas in the City of Miami, Coral Gables, West Miami, Hialeah and Miami Springs. His mentor is Commissioner Rebeca Sosa.
The Miami-Dade County Youth Commission was created in 2011. It allows ordinary teenagers to be commissioners. They represent and articulate the needs of the youth in their district. They advise the mayor and Board of County Commissioners on matters affecting the youth population.
“Teach a youth about the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it,” Diaz said. “This well-known proverb sheds light on the importance of guiding, protecting and empowering the youth of our county.”
The Youth Commission provides an opportunity for students like Gonzalez to use her gifts and talents. She applies her leadership skills, communication skills and her love of public speaking to serve her community.
“I love serving the community through the Youth Commission! We hold meetings, have committees, set goals and discuss matters in the exact same manner as the commissioners do,” Gonzalez said. “Oftentimes youth are put second in priority; the MDCYC truly is the voice of our county’s young people. The Youth Commission is unique in the sense that the youth have the power to make change happen. Not many programs can you so easily take youth-related issues to heart and then take it directly to the local government.”
As the issue of increased violence in schools has been brought to the forefront in our community, it is now a major topic in the Youth Commission as well. They are working diligently to discuss, brainstorm, and implement solutions. These amazing teens are being proactive through town hall meetings, press conferences, social media, and an upcoming youth summit. They aim to bring youth together by partnering with countywide programs such as Teen Court, the Violence Intervention Project, and Speak Your Peace.
“We work towards unity for youth of all races, ethnicities, religions, social class, and economic class,” Castillo said. “In a nutshell, you can see the Youth Commission as the United Nations for youth in our county. We avoid conflict, find solutions, and improve relations between government, schools, students, teachers, administration, parents and the community.”