The new members of the Lakeland Youth Council stand with city commissioners and the mayor following their swearing-in ceremony. | City of Lakeland

The Lakeland City Commission dealt with issues important to the city’s oldest and youngest residents in a meeting Monday that included swearing in members of a new Youth Council, discussing the need for a senior center and supporting positive early interactions between children and police.

Meet the new Youth Council

The 15 members of the city’s inaugural Youth Council signed a pledge and took the oath of office Monday morning.  The members applied to be on the council and were then nominated by the seven commissioners. They are:

  • Emily Frankenberger – senior at Polk State Gateway to Collegiate High School
  • Ian Goines – junior at Lakeland Christian School
  • Hailey Hitchcock – junior at Harrison School For The Arts
  • Hannah Hitchcock – junior at Lakeland High School
  • Abigail Jennings – sophomore at International Baccalaureate School at Bartow High
  • Shamera Jones – senior at Lakeland High School
  • Benjamin Madden – senior at Lakeland High School
  • Temaria Murphy – junior at Harrison School For The Arts
  • Colton Pierce – sophomore at Lakeland Christian School
  • Sarai Roque – sophomore at Harrison School For The Arts
  • Serenity Smith – junior at George Jenkins High School
  • Kirstyn Staton – junior at Chain of Lakes Collegiate High School
  • Elijah Vazquez – freshman at Polk Virtual School
  • Ka’Laylan Williams – sophomore at Kathleen Senior High School
  • Tristan Williams – senior at Lakeland High School
  • Nysa Williamson – freshman at Harrison School For The Arts

All 15 are high-achieving students and leaders in their schools.

“I just want to welcome this amazing group of 15 young students who are tomorrow’s leaders,” said City Commissioner Stephanie Madden, who spearheaded the effort to bring the Youth Council to the city. She recused herself from the vote because the inductees include her son Benjamin, who has a 4.48 grade point average and is captain of the Lakeland High lacrosse team.

Madden said some students who live outside the city limits were ineligible to participate. In addition, some students submitted their applications just past the deadline and were disqualified.

“There have been some little kinks that have been probably frustrating to some folks this year,” Madden acknowledged. However, she encouraged students who were not selected to “put your applications in again for next year.”

“We hope that next year will be even better because these young people will have a lot to say, I’m sure, by the end of the year to give us lots of great suggestions going forward into the future,” she said.

Senior center is a missing link for older residents

Following the swearing-in ceremony, Pat Steed, a board member with Lakeland Vision and the executive director of the Central Florida Regional Planning Council, presented the group’s goals and proposals for the city in coming years.  The group was founded in 1998 to develope a comprehensive vision and plan of action for the greater Lakeland area. 

This is the group’s fourth “visioning effort.” The motto for this round was: “Lakeland — a vibrant community of opportunities for a lifetime.”

The group and city began focusing on enhancing quality of life for older residents in 2010. In 2014, the Florida Department of Elder Affairs declared Lakeland a “Community for a Lifetime” and in 2017 the city was lauded by AARP Florida as “age-friendly,” which Steed said is a prestigious designation and something the city worked hard to obtain.

 Steed said there are eight domains that make Lakeland an “age-friendly” community:

  • Outdoor spaces and buildings
  • Transportation
  • Housing
  • Social participation
  • Respect and social inclusion
  • Civic participation and employment
  • Communication and information
  • Community support and health services

One missing piece of the age-friendly puzzle is a senior center, an idea that has been discussed for several years.

“The groundwork has been laid for a while, but this is really where we feel like significant progress has been made this year by focusing on that senior center possibility or opportunity for Lakeland,” Steed said.

A woman in polka-dot dress dances with a distinguished man in the Magnolia Building (foreground). Dancers in the background are out of focus.
Social interaction is key to quality of life for older residents. The City of Lakeland offers programs for seniors such as dances at various facilities including the Magnolia Building, but it doesn’t have a dedicated senior center. | City of Lakeland

She said the group’s hope is to maximize opportunities for seniors to be active, healthy and engaged with their neighbors by connecting them. A senior center could provide a physical one-stop resource for older adults needing information and support regarding older adult services, programming, and housing, along with city, county, state and federal support resources.

It could also provide a place for socialization and educational opportunities for older adults of all ethnic, financial, cultural, spiritual, and professional backgrounds. Programs that could be offered include:

  • Educational programming in classrooms and a large presentation space
  • A wellness/fitness space
  • Healthcare
  • A computer lab
  • Hobby spaces
  • An entertainment center and game room
  • Assessment and counseling support services
  • Volunteering and vocational referral
  • A music room

Steed said a survey this year of 862 adults showed that those were the most important things people wanted to see in the Lakeland Senior Center. They are using the survey as a guide moving forward.

“(We’re) looking at the potential for a public-private partnership, researching suitable sites and seeking funding opportunities for capital and operations,” Steed said. “So that effort is going to be underway in the coming year.”

Building trust between kids and officers, one bicycle at a time

Lakeland Vision also held a retreat this year to discuss the education of young people in Lakeland. Superintendent Frederick Heid, Early Learning Coalition CEO Marc Hutek, Florida Southern College’s Lauren Albaum and the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce’s Takiyah Dixon participated.

Chamber of Commerce President Amy Wiggins, who is on Lakeland Vision’s board, said they want to focus on early learning along with developing a vibrant workforce by partnering with local businesses and companies.

A Lakeland Police Officer helps a chid with his helmet during a National Night Out event in August 2023. | Lakeland Police Department

Lakeland Vision also sees the need to partner with law enforcement and have their interactions with students be positive starting at an early age. To that end, they’ve fostered the development of Bike Buddies, which teams a child with a law enforcement officer to fix up a bike, which is then given to the child, or repair the child’s bike. Lakeland Vision and the law enforcement agencies, including the Lakeland Police Department, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, and the Florida Polytechnic University Police Department are hoping that program can develop friendships.

Lakeland Vision Board member Rick Maxey, retired vice president of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Florida Polytechnic University, said the bikes are “just the hook. The real purpose of this is to create closer relationships between children in at-risk communities with our local law enforcement.  And a second goal that we have is to get parents engaged in that process. And we believe that having kids and parents working closely with law enforcement officers, we improve relationships and improved relationships lead to better collaboration between the community and law enforcement.”

Ted Hogan, who runs the Pedal Power Bicycle Ministry at First Presbyterian Church on Lake Hollingsworth, is also a driving force behind the program.

“Nobody hesitated when we went to them with this idea,” Maxey said.

The program is underway, although organizers said they are in need of a 16-foot trailer to keep the bikes and equipment. Anyone willing to donate a trailer or the money to purchase one can contact Hogan at First Presbyterian Church at (863) 686-7187 or Maxey at

Lakeland Vision and LkldNow are partners and LkldNow Executive Director Trinity Luarino serves on the Lakeland Vision board of directors.

SEND CORRECTIONS, questions, feedback or news tips:


Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.

Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at or 863-272-9250.

Leave a comment

Your Thoughts On This? (Comments are moderated; first and last name are required.)