Internship Program Connecting Youth With Local Government

Councilman Thomas Russo and his intern Jake Wurtz, senior at Howell High School. (Photo courtesy Thomas Russo)
Councilman Thomas Russo and his intern Jake Wurtz, senior at Howell High School. (Photo courtesy Thomas Russo)

HOWELL – It was 2017 when now-councilman Thomas Russo had the idea, before he campaigned his way onto the Howell Township Council. Now half a year into his first term, Councilman Russo is ensuring that his idea becomes a reality.

In an effort to spark an interest in local government with more of the younger population, Russo came up with the idea to establish an internship program.

“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 AP government program,” Russo told Jersey Shore Online. “The idea started when a few friends and I volunteered at a [Howell High School] voter registration drive back in 2017.”

In speaking with actual high school students, Russo got the impression that there are many kids out there that have an interest in local government and policy, noting that their “passion and excitement” was clear.

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In the nearly two years since, Russo campaigned and won a seat on the Howell Township Council, allowing him to begin the groundwork on the internship program.

“After getting sworn in, I began drafting a rough outline on how I pictured the internship program would be run… 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 explained.

It has been nearly seven months since Russo, one of the younger members of the current council, was sworn in. In that short time, he expressed that he continues to learn a lot about how local government processes work, gaining useful insight.

And as a Howell native and former student at Howell High School, Russo knows just how valuable this additional experience could be.

This experience has only strengthened the foundation of his internship program, noting that “giving our high schoolers the opportunity to work alongside our administrators and fellow councilmembers, and to see first-hand how our government functions, would be a tremendous and valuable learning experience that would prepare them for a career in government and policy making.”

While the project is still in the works, there has already been some progress getting the idea off the ground. Back in January, he met with Howell High School Principal Jeremy Braverman as well as the vice principal and AP Government teacher to discuss the possibility of a partnership with the township to provide students with the internship.

“I am happy to announce that after meeting with the principal and vice principal of Howell High School, the administration agreed to move forward with the program. This would be the first of its kind in Howell Township,” read a post to Russo’s official Facebook page on January 28.

Since that first meeting, word about the internship spread and Russo began receiving inquiries from parents and teachers about joining the program.

One call came from his former wrestling coach, Coach Brandel. Brandel introduced Russo to Howell High School wrestler and senior Jacob Wurtz, who is now Russo’s very first intern. Jake is also a Peer Leader, Anytown Student Rep, and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) President.

“Jake and I met [in February] and immediately hit it off. He has been my intern ever since and doing a fantastic job. He is a natural leader, committed student and hardworking young man with an extremely bright future. It has been an honor having him as my intern and friend these past few months,” said Russo.

In has only been a few months, but the pair have already made the rounds at various events providing Jake with essential experience before he heads off to college at West Virginia University in the fall.

Russo noted that he and Jake have made appearances at a Howell PBA dinner, a Senior Services Volunteer Recognition Luncheon, Student Government Day, Clean Communities Clean Up Day, and a few Eagle Scout ceremonies, among others.

One of Jake’s most important tasks as intern is drafting policy memos to provide a younger perspective on current issues. His final project will be a policy memo on the impact of Lyme’s disease and other tick-borne illness on Howell Township, Russo added, which was presented to Congressman Chris Smith at the May 29 congressional town hall meeting.

While Russo would like to remind everyone that the project is still in its early stages, it is expected to roll out next year.