We’re super excited to share the story of Alissa Schwartz and her son Max Drury! Max, who occupies most of his time with photography, drumming and soccer, is one of the youngest PB participants advocating for real change in his community. In 2014, he was part of the PB process in New York City’s District 39 under Councilmember Brad Lander. At the young age of 13 Max won $225,000 towards the PS 146/Middle school 448 Innovative Gym Renovation project. His commitment to this project for the Brooklyn New School and its sister school the Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies helped create an essential facility for students to enjoy dance and other fitness activities. One year later , Max and Alissa met with us to reflect on their amazing PB experience!
PBP: Hey Max and Alissa, thanks so much for taking the time to meet with us. Can you tell me a little bit about how you got involved with participatory budgeting?
Max: I was introduced to PB at a young age. I was 10 years old when my mom (Alissa Schwartz) brought me to one of the neighborhood assemblies that was starting in Councilman Lander’s district 39. Since then I’ve been interested in PB and the lasting effect it has on the community. I realized that I could be part of a real change through PB and decided to dedicate my time to bettering the community.
PBP: What were your responsibilities as a budget delegate?
Max: As part of the education committee, other delegates and I went around to different schools in the district and asked school administrators what they needed if they had funds to improve their schools. I visited the Brooklyn New School where I was a previous student and the current school my younger sister attended. The principals and staff knew me and brought their idea of creating a gym room for the students. I supported their idea and reviewed ways to improve the proposal with other delegates in my group.
After weeks of discussions and emailing we reached the voting stage and that’s where I began talking to everyone about the gym renovation project and why it should be supported.
PBP: One of the special aspects of PB is that it welcomes youth to get engaged with social change. How was your experience as the youngest delegate in your PB committee?
Max: As a person who talks a lot, I didn’t see my age as an obstacle to getting my ideas across. I had experience with public speaking from previous involvement in my school’s debate team and was comfortable talking with public officials, PB supporters and school representatives throughout the process.
PBP: What have you learned through this PB experience?
Max: At the PB Expo there were many proposals presented on different poster boards. I took on the role of a spokesperson and was able to talk to many people on the first day, explaining why it was important that this project be implemented. After the expo, my mom and I were approached by many of the voters who supported the gym renovation project and were told that my active advocacy helped sway their votes towards the project. It was rewarding to learn that my activism had an impact in the outcome of the PB process.
PBP: Were other youth involved in the process?
Max: I worked alongside my mom and other budget delegates in my committee, however during the voting phase, there were many youth who were able to vote (ages 14 and older) for the various projects presented at the expo. My mom and I were not from District 39 so we could not vote and I was also one year shy of the permitted voting age.
PBP: What advice do you have for young people that want to get involved in PB?
Max: No matter what it is, go for it! Don’t let your age get in the way of getting involved in your community. Work hard in trying to make a change and even if you don’t succeed right away, you will always have a good memory and experience of having gone through such an engaging process. It could even enable you to try it again in the future.