In 2005, a lifelong Chester County resident was elected to the Caln Township board at age 23, its youngest commissioner ever.

In October, Joshua Young, at the ripe old age of 28, became the youngest chairman ever of the Slippery Rock University council of trustees.

One of the people who inspired him? A 5-year-old girl.

But age and superlatives are not what drive this earnest, fresh-faced political junkie.

Young says he believes a cosmic shift is needed in government - more transparency and accountability - as well as in wasteful American lifestyles.

"We need to quit buying oil from people who don't like us," he said between bites of a cheesesteak at a West Chester bistro. "If my generation doesn't do something, it's going to be too late."

Young, who uses a BlackBerry to boost his accessibility, said his lifelong passion for politics had intensified when he majored in political science at Slippery Rock, where he served on the council of trustees as a student in the Class of 2004.

"At graduation, he said, 'I'll be back,' and that wasn't a threat," joked Robert M. Smith, Slippery Rock's president.

Smith said Young had worked hard to convince state lawmakers that he should be named a trustee, which required an appointment by Gov. Rendell and Senate confirmation in 2007.

"It's that kind of dedication that makes him a wonderful trustee - even though he looks like he's 12," said Smith, who has children older than Young.

It's easy these days to be cynical about politicians, but Young inspires hope, Smith said, citing his strong ethics.

Bob Taylor, a 1978 graduate who preceded Young as head of the council of trustees, agreed. He called Young a bright, down-to-earth leader with integrity who will provide "a real kick in the tail as far as energy level" during challenging and competitive times.

"You don't have to pay $50,000 a year to get a great education," Taylor said, adding that many students attend state schools because of cost constraints. "We need to keep the price down and the standards high."

During his tenure, Taylor said, he began involving students more in decisions about fee hikes and program changes, a direction that Young is continuing.

Young described the university position, which involves attending quarterly meetings and commencements, as a "dream job." He said he loved "giving back" to the school that had shaped him. It's an unpaid position for which he gets expenses, he said.

"Students really refresh my sense of purpose," Young said. "In order to be someone who changes things, you can't sit at home."

The periodic revitalizing serves him well in Caln Township, he said. He was reelected to the board in 2009, and his length of service made him the board's senior member: "A funny place for me to be," he said.

One of his primary goals has been to decrease Caln's carbon footprint. Last year, Young organized the township's first Go Green Expo, a symposium of exhibits and demonstrations for reducing energy consumption. He's planning to surpass those efforts with the second expo in March.

Young said occasionally he got stymied by technical questions from constituents. He said it's important to admit what you don't know.

"I'll always give them an answer," he said, "but sometimes I have to do research first."

Young conceded that being single gave him more time to devote to township business, but his township salary of $3,250 doesn't cover many bills. When he isn't attending meetings or special events, he works at Young's Garage, a car-repair and towing business in East Bradford Township started in 1960 by his grandparents Ruth and Dave Young and now run by his father.

There, he can be found replacing brakes, changing oil, answering phones, or doing "whatever is needed."

His father, Tim, said he knew that the oldest of his three children was not inclined to become the business' third generation.

"It's not his passion, and I don't want to stand in the way of what he wants," his father said. "I'm happy to have him as long as possible. He's great with customers."

Joshua Young counts his family members among his strongest influences and said he had learned the value of community service from them at an early age. He's eager to pursue a career in politics, but for now, he said, he's focused on his township and university responsibilities.

When Young has time to relax - an infrequent occurrence, he conceded - he enjoys "playing in the dirt." He said that his 50-by-50-foot vegetable garden sometimes got away from him, but that it afforded a welcome - and nutritious - escape.

"The reason I love politics is that you can change the world," he said.

For naysayers who might question such lofty aspirations, he points to Alexandra Scott, the 5-year-old from Lower Merion who began a lemonade stand to benefit childhood cancer research before succumbing to the disease.

Young was an undergraduate when Alex's story began making headlines, offering proof that one person can make an impact. Since her death in 2004, her foundation has continued to generate millions of dollars for the effort to find a cure.

"We can all change the world," Young said. "Look what her one lemonade stand did."

Contact staff writer Kathleen Brady Shea at 610-696-3815 or kbrady@phillynews.com.