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Howell councilman’s goal: Attract young people to local government

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HOWELL – Township Councilman Thomas Russo wants to use an internship program to attract more young people to local government.

Russo is a lifelong Howell resident and a 2005 graduate of Howell High School, where he was member of the Rebels’ varsity wrestling and lacrosse teams. He sought and won his first four-year term on the Township Council in 2018.

“One of my main initiatives in my campaign for council was to attract more young people to our local government. I found that one of the best ways to accomplish that goal was to create an internship program and partnership with Howell High School and their Advanced Placement government program.

“The idea started when a few friends and I volunteered at a Howell High School voter registration drive in 2017,” Russo said. “We had the opportunity to speak to the students and witnessed firsthand how interested they were in government, policy making and the political process generally. Their passion and excitement for state and local issues was made clear by how they prepared for the event.”

He began to outline the internship program after he was sworn in as a councilman in January.

“The rough outline was how I pictured the internship program would be run and I believed a partnership between Howell High School and the township was essential to the program’s success. The goal would be to afford our high school government students the opportunity to gain up-close and real-life exposure to the inner workings of our local government,” Russo said.

“As a new councilman, I am learning more and more about how our government operates and the education I am receiving is incredible. I believe getting real-life experience in any field is one of the most valuable ways to learn any given subject.

“Giving our high school students the opportunity to work alongside our administrators and fellow council members, and to see firsthand how our government functions, would be a tremendous and valuable learning experience that would prepare them for a career in government and policy making,” Russo said.

Shortly after taking office, Russo met with Principal Jeremy Braverman, Vice Principal Michele England and Athanasia Gregorakis, an AP government teacher, and pitched his idea. He said they were supportive and agreed to move forward with a partnership.

Russo said word about the internship idea quickly spread and he began to receive calls from students, teachers and parents who were interested in taking part in the program. He said it is expected to come to fruition next year.

“But in early February, one of my former wrestling coaches asked if I would be interested in speaking with Jacob Wurtz, a senior, varsity wrestler and peer leader, about the possibility of interning with me while the official program was in the works.

“After speaking with Jake, I immediately wanted to meet him and discuss the logistics on how we would craft an internship for him, while helping us create and build the official program for next year,” Russo said.

Russo met Wurtz the following week and the two hit it off.

“He has been my intern ever since and doing a fantastic job. He is a natural leader, a committed student and a hardworking young man with an extremely bright future. It has been an honor having him as my intern and friend these past few months,” Russo said.

Wurtz has joined Russo at a number of events, including the Howell PBA Dinner, a Senior Services Volunteer Recognition Luncheon and Eagle Scout ceremonies.

“Aside from attending council meetings and other events in town, Jake’s main job included drafting policy memos on key issues that gave me a younger resident’s perspective, which is crucial when making decisions that impact the town as a whole.

“Jake recently worked on his final project, a policy memo on the impact Lyme Disease and other tick-borne illnesses have on Howell. On May 29, Jake and I attended a congressional town hall to present his memo to Congressman Chris Smith and to discuss how Mr. Smith’s proposed federal legislation will help Howell and our residents,” Russo said.

Jacob said that during his internship he has learned what a council member does, how the local government serves the community and how to operate in a bipartisan manner.

He said Russo “is always there to help and to try to better Howell because he is a Howell native. It is a great thing to see there is a different side of government than what you see on TV with everyone fighting.”

Jacob said he plans to become a lobbyist, preferably in the field of technology, after attending West Virginia University to pursue a degree in political science.

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