It is not easy to measure the impact that the YMCA Youth and Government Program has upon the hundreds of teenagers who are involved annually in the State of New York. The program is deemed significant and positive because of its interest in helping teenagers achieve developmental skills such as: socially responsible behavior, self-confidence, decisions about college or occupational choices, political awareness, and leadership skills. But beyond this, the YMCA is concerned that youth constantly clarify their values and understand the challenges that come from participation in government. There is no other teen program that combines so many powerful forces for enhancing learning than YMCA Youth and Government.
The purpose of YMCA Youth and Government is to enhance the development of the American Democratic system by enabling young people to prepare for value-based and political leadership through experiential learning. The purpose is also to create responsible citizenship by increasing awareness of societal problems and demonstrating vehicles for their resolution. As our motto states: “democracy must be learned by each generation.”
Although the broad objectives of YMCA Youth and Government include education in the democratic process, development of leadership abilities, and stimulation of interest in government, the experience helps many participants in their choice of career. The program has inspired many young people to enter politics and allied fields such as law and service to others. The major value of the program continues to be in the development of young men and women who will be better citizens by being both knowledgeable and activity in determining the future of our democracy.
The first YMCA Youth and Government Program was organized in 1936 in the State of New York. The program began as an outgrowth of the Older Boys Conference of New York State held in Albany, during the State Constitutional Convention in 1935 (where three hundred participants from across the State met to consider the implications of the new State Constitution). Clement A. Duran, Boys Work Secretary of the Albany YMCA, and W.H. Burger, Boys Work Secretary of the New York State Committee, were founding fathers of the program.
One of the early developments in the program design was the inclusion of Legislative Committees which is now one of the strongest phases of the Model Legislature. This was preceded in 1950 with the first Governor in Harley Albro. In the early seventies, the Press Corps program developed as a new component and in 1975 the Lobbyist Program was introduced, along with defined Cabinet positions opening new opportunities for participation and leadership development.
In 1981 the program held their first Judicial Conference and Model Court of Appeals. Successive other small program changes have occurred such as the inclusion of a collegiate advisor program in 2002, the elimination of a page program into something much more substantial in scope forming the foundation for the Teddy Roosevelt introductory program in 2005, closely followed with a second Assembly Chamber in 2009.
Today, entering our eightieth year YMCA Youth and Government remains a national program of the YMCA. It involves more than fifty-five thousand teens nationwide in state organized model government programs which include model legislature, judicial programs, executive branches, lobbyist, press corps and pages.
WHY YMCA YOUTH & GOVERNMENT
Youth and Government is the YMCA’s premiere leadership program for teens. Most of the participants, students, and volunteer advisors, who are often teachers, and Y professionals, know that YMCA Youth and Government is the best program of its type when compared to similar programs conducted in New York State. Why is it the best? What makes it different?
New York State YMCA Youth and Government demands hard work from students
Each delegate writes his or her own bill and does tremendous work to get it right. Research, writing and rewriting, presenting the bill informally and formally to others, and defending it in debate are processes each delegate works through. Also, if delegates discover at the Model Legislative Conference that they have a bill similar to another delegate, delegates may then re-work their bills into one bill more likely to pass. Delegates are not allowed to go to Albany with nothing to do. From the start of the program in September through the Model Legislative Conference in March, delegates put in more than 70 hours of preparation.
YMCA Youth and Government demands professional behavior from its participants
All delegates and their parents sign a Code of Conduct. The code specifies that all delegates are responsible for their own behavior while respecting the rights of others; possession and/or consumption of drugs, alcohol or smoking at any YMCA Youth & Government activity is not allowed. Participants are to be appropriately dressed in business attire and wearing their badges; participants must treat the Capitol and the hotel with the greatest respect. Any violation of the Code of Conduct will result in immediate expulsion. Attendance is taken and room checks are done often throughout the weekend.
The YMCA provides training so all delegates and advisors know their roles and responsibilities
The delegates are prepared when they walk into the Assembly Chamber for the Opening Joint Session to fulfill their responsibilities and act in a professional manner at all times. Weekly or biweekly meetings at the local Y or school are to help with bill writing, learn parliamentary procedure, and practice debating. Attendance at their local District Conference is required in order to participate in the Model Legislative Conference. All delegates participate in training on public speaking, how committee hearings work, YMCA values, and peer review of their bills.
YMCA Youth and Government is an opportunity to excel academically outside of school
Success in school is not a prerequisite for success in Youth and Government. While teens in YMCA Youth and Government have plenty of opportunity to use academic skills such as reading, writing and research, a delegate does not need to be an “A” student to succeed. Rather, willingness to apply oneself and speak out with confidence and thoughtfulness will carry a delegate further than many skills traditionally stressed in school. Delegates can help each other and receive help from adults in evaluating and suggesting improvements on their bills, but when it comes time to actually sit down and write or to stand up and speak, each delegate is on his/her own.
YMCA Youth & Government offers various measurements for success
To be named a Premiere Delegation, all delegates need to do their share, demonstrating responsibility by submitting bills, fees, signed Codes of Conduct on time, and by adhering to the Code of Conduct. Individual delegates can succeed by being voted by their peers as elected officer, Best Debater, Best Firm, Best Lobbyist, Best Brief, Best Bill, Best Brief.
The pinnacle of success for a delegate is to be named to attend the YMCA’s Youth Conference on National Affairs in North Carolina during the first week of July. There, over 600 of the best and brightest students from across the country gather to debate (and debate and debate!), proposals they have written on matters of national and international concern. The New York State delegation has distinguished itself in the years it has participated in this program.
The New York State YMCA Youth & Government program will only select those delegates that have shown their mettle at the state level by writing a good bill, by debating seriously and thoughtfully, and by respecting the goals and code of the program. It is not necessary to be in a leadership position to go to National Affairs, and being in a leadership position does not guarantee being chosen. Delegates are nominated by their peers, advisors,’ and by the recommendation of the Selection Committee.
Benefits to the Students
State legislators and senators take an active interest in the program in their communities and at the Capitol. Through knowing the legislators, students have opportunities to see how the state government is run and may also have opportunities for internships at local or State offices. Participation in the program improves college applications as most major colleges and universities in the country recognize the worth of a leadership role in the YMCA Youth and Government program. It also shows the student’s interest in his or her society and community, dedication to an ongoing project, ability to work with others and maturity.
Young people from all over the State participate in YMCA Youth and Government. They learn a great deal from meeting each other and many forge lasting friendships. Unlike a classroom experience, Youth and Government is a hands-on experience. Delegates learn by doing and have the opportunity to try their hand at leadership in a safe, learning environment.
Perhaps the most important benefit of the program, not only for the students, but also for the society at large, is that it teaches young people how to become active citizens in a democracy. There has been a growing lack of confidence in government, and Youth & Government shows high school students that they can play a significant role in New York State government.
Over the summer I received a call from the White House inviting me to be a White House Intern, a direct result from that hunger YAG created in my life. I headed to DC and started the internship and will be there until the end of this year. Everyday when I walk through the White House gates I consider my time there as a tribute to all those who have been the difference in my life. So I wanted to just take the time to say thank you. Thank you for being *the* difference. My time at the White House so far has been nothing less than extraordinary. I am growing, learning and meeting some of the most extraordinary human beings. Raul Sanchez October 2015
On a personal level, I want to thank you for all you have done for my daughter, Alaina. Youth and Government has truly changed her life and perspective.
It has given her wonderful opportunities in leadership roles, making new friends, and more importantly, being educated on the issues of today and of her generation while empowering her to realize that she can make a difference. If I had to pick a single life changing experience for Alaina while in high school, I know it would be Youth and Government. Alaina Ryan May 2008
I must thank the YMCA for this opportunity. DeVar told me when I picked him up that the experience was “life changing”. He felt that he was with people who cared about others and the world. He is usually quiet and laid-back but I saw a young man who was excited and eager to have an opportunity to share his experiences. He talked also about the respect that was showed to each presenter as they expressed views on various topics for debate. He also expressed an interest in getting other people involved in his local chapter and talked more about his future goals. Thank you for everything you have done to make this a wonderful experience for my son. Words cannot express how his experience has broaden his awareness of who is as an individual and who he would like to become as a member of society. Felicia Collins May 2011
If someone were to ask me what has had the greatest impact on my life thus far, I could come up with the answer without even thinking about it. The Youth and Government Program. When I look back on myself 3 years ago, before I became involved with the program, I was a different person. I was more of an observer than a doer. I was more reserved. I didn’t take as many active leadership roles as I do now. I was afraid of sharing my ideas. I feared what other people would think of me. I was also afraid of speaking in public. Hallie Orr February 2011
My experience with Youth and Government has been one that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I have had the opportunity to seen my students achieve so much more than I ever thought possible. I have seen borderline students, one I had to fight with other staff members to bring to this conference, blossom and achieve on a level at which we were amazed. Although I leave with regret that I can’t stay longer, I am so very proud to have been a part of this program. The organization that is constant…to give the students the very best program possible, has been amazing, and I thank you for that. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity. Colleen Murtague April 2012
The program begins at the local level, were young people identify a community issue of concern, with the assistance of their local YMCA or Youth & Government affiliated school. The participants conduct extensive research on their issue and write a document based on their findings. Local attorneys and government officials are consulted during this process.
The second stage of the Program is the District Conference. Participants are trained in parliamentary procedure, legislative committee process, debate, press relations, and lobbying techniques. At this level, a judicial seminar or model Appellate Court is conducted for the students participating in the judicial program. After the documents have been presented at the District conference, they are sent to the New York State YMCA Youth & Government Model Legislative Program.
The third stage is the Albany Model Legislative weekend. Every year during the spring, participants travel to Albany to implement the YMCA Youth & Government program events in the authentic surroundings of the State Capitol. The Albany weekend culminates several months of hard work for participants; for three intensive days, they become completely immersed in the political process.
Every participant involved in the program has specific responsibility. Students may participate as legislators, or may become involved in the executive or judicial programs or as a lobbyist, press corps member or legislator.
Legislators debate and vote upon Senate and Assembly bills, Lobbyist lobby for or against particular issues, the Press Corps report the event in their newspaper. The Governor and his/her Cabinet discuss the legislative bills and decided which pieces of legislation may be signed into law. The youth Chief Justice and her/his Associate Judges conduct the hearings at the Model Court of Appeals based upon actual case law that is distributed in advance; two teams of young attorneys represent both the Petitioner and the Respondent. Students interested in obtaining an elected position, campaign for next year’s statewide offices. In the midst of the flurry, new friendships, intense personal growth and confidence blossom overnight.
The fourth stage of the program takes place when the delegates meet with their local representatives to lobby for bills passed by the legislature, resolutions of the Judicial Conference and executive actions proposed in the Executive Report. Over eighty current New York State laws were first introduced in the New York State YMCA Youth and Government Legislature.
The final stage of the process is the Spring Conference for Youth Officers and Outstanding Participants. The Youth Leadership Group (See complete list of Leadership in this Chapter) meet with the purposes of evaluating the previous conference, and to receive training and preparation to become delegates to the YMCA Youth Conference on National Affairs and the National Youth Governors Conference.