Thursday, June 28, 2007

Day 2: A Trip to Capitol Hill

The day began with role-playing. Each team met
an experienced policy advisor from World Vision who coached them and rehearsed with them in preparation for their visit to Capitol Hill.
Breanna, a member of the Chicago delegation, made her empassioned plea about teen violence during the role-playing. One staff member urged the youths to share personal stories, as these would have a greater impact on their listeners.

Each YES summit participant received a T-shirt specially made for the conference. The T-shirts were all made by the four-member Appalachia delegation. Here, Jewel, left, and Samantha, right (of the Washington, D.C., delegation), model the T-shirts.

Thus, the army in Y.E.S. T-shirts headed for Capitol Hill to let their voices be heard. On the way there, Casey, 14, and Rodney, 15, of the Appalachia delegation, shared that they were a bit nervous to meet their legislators, but also excited. Said Casey about the Youth Empowerment program: "It's a great opportunity to speak your voice and communicate." Rodney said that through the Youth Empowerment program, he sees that he has "a voice in making a difference."

The Albany, Ga., delegation rushed toward the Capitol building for the first meeting of the day with Georgia senator, Johnny Isakson. They discussed with him the importance of continuing funding for a teen abstinence education program.

All the teams had the opportunity to meet with at least one legislator from their state. The participants expressed that they had been heard and felt empowered through the process. Here, the Appalachia team approached Sen. Robert Byrd's office to discuss the problems in West Virginia of youth struggling with substance abuse and unemployment.

Sen. Norm Coleman listened attentively as a member of the Minneapolis/St. Paul team discussed the fact that youth in their area do not understand how much their own financial decisions affect their lives both in the present and future.

Presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton greeted members of New York's delegation.

Tacoma, Wash., team member Samuel discussed his team's recommendations with Sen. Patty Murray's assistant. The team wants the youth of Tacoma to be more involved in the city's lawmaking process. They proposed the creation of a Youth Advisory Board to be involved in such decisions.

The teams all had the opportunity to debrief on the day when they returned to the 4-H Conference grounds. "I felt like we were heard. They responded well," said one young woman. Laquasha, of the Chicago group, said, "They see youth from the inner city that care."

"I felt better about myself," said Rodney from Appalachia. "I was worried that they wouldn't hear my group. It was amazing."

The evening's finale came when the teams from New York, Albany, and Appalachia shared their media projects. The teams created these videos to showcase their communities--presenting the issues they are facing or what gives them hope. Each one met with thunderous applause. As the conference winds down tomorrow, each teen will have the opportunity to attend workshops in the morning. The afternoon is open for seeing many of the historic sites in Washington, D.C.

After today's events, the teams are making plans for the future. How can they keep building on the momentum they have gained over the past 15 weeks? That is the next step in their journey of advocacy.

This conference was supported by and produced with funds from Award No. 2005-JL-FX-0142 awarded by the United States Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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