The Arkansas United Youth Committee was created in January 2020 with the intention to get younger people involved with Arkansas United. According to senior Pedro Manon, vice president of the Arkansas United Youth Committee, the committee has taught students leadership skills, organized drives and fundraisers, and helped promote legislative agendas that will benefit Arkansans. The president of the committee, Hana Mehal, is a senior at Haas Hall Academy. She and her brother had been volunteering for Arkansas United and wanted to create a youth committee. After her brother graduated, she worked with Erick Soto, another high school volunteer, to start the committee.
“By January of 2020, we formally created the Arkansas United Youth Committee as it is known now,” Mehal said, “Through making this committee, I hope to introduce more high-schoolers to the world of community engagement, advocacy, and non-profit work.”
According to Mehal, the committee held an election to decide the various leadership positions, in which she ran and was elected president.
“Working on the Youth Committee for the past year and a half has been so fulfilling for me, and I wanted to continue to put in as much effort as I could to help it grow,” Mehal said. “With all of the tragedy and difficulties of the past year, the Youth Committee has served as a beacon of hope for what the future holds.”
Manon joined soon after the committee was formed.
“I joined because my friend Eric had this idea to create a youth committee, he worked with Arkansas United as a volunteer and an intern, and he was just working really closely with the nonprofit,” Manon said. “He had this idea, I want younger people getting involved with Arkansas United and hopefully being taught leadership skills.”
After serving as one of the first members of the committee, Manon later was voted vice president.
“I got voted to be vice president about a month and a half ago,” Manon said, “And now I just serve as the second in command. Whenever the president can’t do something, I take charge.”
Manon also takes part in planning events and coordinating with the liaisons from Arkansas United. He describes his position as a manager.
Arkansas United is a non-profit organization dedicated to responding to Arkansas’s large immigrant population through education, outreach, and information sessions. They hope to provide resources that can build opportunities for immigrant populations to participate in Arkansas’s economic, political, and social processes. Senior Jax Nalley has volunteered for Arkansas United in the past, and joined the youth committee last year.
“Right now I’m a secretary so I’m like the note taker,” Nalley said. “We coordinate events for Har-Ber we think the organization should do, so like right now we’re working on a food drive.”
The committee is currently working with the National Honors Society (NHS) on a school-wide food drive. According to Mehal, this is a part of the committee’s despensa projects, which is Spanish for pantry.
“We partnered with another student-led non-profit called Care4Womxn, local high schools (including Har-Ber, Springdale High School, Haas Hall Academy in Fayetteville, and Fayetteville High School), and St. Raphael’s Catholic Church to hand out boxes of non-perishable foods, menstrual hygiene supplies, COVID safety informational packets, and more to a little under 150 families,” Mehal said. “We try to identify what our community needs most and cater our outreach efforts towards those needs.”
Arkansas United Youth Committee is also hosting drives for feminine hygiene products at Haas Hall and Fayetteville high schools in addition to Har-Ber’s food drive. The items collected in the drives were distributed at St. Raphael’s Catholic Church on Saturday, February 13.
“Those are just two issues that we’ve heard from families have become a big deal since COVID,” Nalley said. “People are losing jobs and don’t have the money to buy food. Also, after the holidays, there’s usually a rush on food banks, so there’s not a lot of inventory.”
Another event organized by the committee was a voter registration drive.
“We had a voter registration drive where we registered a lot of Har-Ber students to vote,” Manon said, “So we’re just focusing everywhere throughout the community, and if you’re a Har-Ber student or in the community, you’re probably going to be benefited in some way.”
According to Manon, the Arkansas United Youth Committee is serving the community right now by promoting legislation that will benefit immigrant populations.
“For example, Marshallese people,” Manon said, “There was recently a bill in the state representatives government that wanted Marshallese people to be able to serve as police officers, it failed; however, we’re going to try to do everything we can to make sure it goes back so that they look at it again.”
According to Manon, the committee has also attempted to resist some bills that could negatively affect the state.
“There were a couple of bad bills that threatened civil justice education at schools,” Manon said. “We created some campaigns to contact state representatives to tell them, ‘don’t do it.’”
According to Mehal, some of these campaigns are carried out on social media.
“We have focused on a variety of initiatives, from informational posts regarding COVID safety and immigrants’ rights on our social media platforms to actionable projects,” Mehal said.
The Arkansas United Youth Committee has also used social media to get young people involved in their events and agenda.
“Arkansas United helps a lot of families with DACA and citizenship applications, so we’ve tried to get young people involved,” Nalley said. “If they have a parent or a relative that needs those services, they can get them to come in the door of Arkansas united.”
According to Nalley, the committee also does fundraisers for immigrant families that are having problems with immigration applications or can’t afford food and other necessities.
Manon believes that the committee has seen an immense amount of progress since it was created.
“It was only like six people that showed up regularly,” Manon said. “Right now, I think we’ve got 15, or so, dedicated people that want to do a lot of work. So just more than doubling the amount of people that we have is a big deal.”
Mehal has seen major progress as well. She is impressed with the ability of the committee to coordinate events and respond to needs of the community. For example, almost the entire despensa project, according to Mehal, was organized by the committee alone.
“Throughout the year, I have watched the committee grow in size as more and more engaged high schoolers from around Northwest Arkansas join our cause. Because of this support, we have been able to contribute more to our surrounding community. The biggest progression that I have seen is the committee’s ability to organize itself and rally behind the needs of the community.”
According to Manon, the committee is looking to expand in Northwest Arkansas and throughout the state, in order to reach people all over Arkansas.
“If you join the youth committee, you get a lot of experience of what it’s like to actually be in the real world making change,” Manon said. “It’s not like the teachers plan it out for you, you have to create these things, and you will get support and help, but I mean these are your ideas that you go through with. You’re being forced to take action.”
Manon believes that joining the committee can be beneficial to all students and will facilitate lasting leadership skills and independence. Mehal agrees.
“Being a part of this group and organization has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me throughout high school, and I highly encourage everyone interested in community service to check us out.”
If a student would like to join the committee, according to Manon, they would have to fill out a Google Form application, asking about their interests and ideas going into the committee.
“If you feel like you want to help the community, join Arkansas United Youth Committee,” Manon said. “Get in contact with us, join, and we’d be glad to have you.”