Walla Walla, WA (May 7, 2019) – Nearly sixty middle and high school students from Walla Walla are heading to Olympia May 7-11 for the 72nd Washington State Youth Legislature Conference as part of the YMCA’s Youth and Government program.
Students in the program learn democracy and model the state’s legislative process. Area teens in grades 8-12 take on the roles of various Washington State elected officials, research and draft solutions to community problems, and engage in service-oriented activities. Delegates learn about the variety of views and issues affecting citizens throughout Washington while applying real-world skills that foster a lifetime of civic involvement.
Youth and Government is a national YMCA program begun in 1969. Washington state’s program is one of the few across the country that uses the state’s capital building to hold its conference, providing the students a unique experience. This week, almost 600 students from across the state are expected to use the House and Senate floors of the Legislative building in Olympia, as well as the various committee rooms.
The Walla Walla Youth and Government program is one of four in all of eastern Washington; Dayton, Spokane, and Waitsburg also offer the program. Walla Walla’s current Youth and Government program started locally four years ago, and today represents the largest contingency from a single Y in the state. The program is open to interested 8th grade and above students in the valley, with most students currently from Pioneer and Garrison Middle Schools. Presently, students who participate in this after-school activity meet weekly at Pioneer Middle School under the guidance of Youth and Government partner Martin Fortney, Pioneer Middle School’s Site Director for the Walla Walla Public School’s 21st Century Community Learn Center Program.
”It is really exciting to see the personal growth by the students each year. These students are becoming more engaged in the world and developing the skills needed to become future community leaders,” Fortney said. “Youth and Government is an excellent fit with the 21st Century Program goals of providing afterschool enrichment opportunities which help students meet both state and local academic standards, while also encouraging them to develop professional skill sets, such as peer leadership and public speaking.”
Walla Walla’s Youth and Government delegation has been busy throughout the school year fundraising, examining issues, learning how to write a bill, and debating its merits. These bills will be presented during the Youth Legislature conference this week at the state Capital. Each student wants their bill to pass and those that do are then submitted by the youth governor to Governor Inslee for the next Washington State Legislature to consider. In 2018, three of the Walla Walla students’ bills were passed by the youth legislature.
“As the program continues to grow the YMCA expects to reach out to other middle schools, high schools and home school programs in surrounding communities,” said Abel Hernandez, the Walla Walla Y’s Director of Youth Programs. “We hope to hold additional meetings in the Y’s newly opened teen center to best accommodate the program’s expansion and as part of the Y’s commitment to youth development.”
The cost to join the program offsets transportation, lodging and meal expenses for the May trip. Financial assistance scholarships are made available through the Y’s annual campaign fund raising efforts and from the state. Students are encouraged to look for news later in May regarding signups for a short two-week summer Youth and Government program in the coming weeks, for grades 6-9. There will be no cost for this summer camp offering.
For additional information contact:
Karen Hedine, CEO
Walla Walla YMCA
Martin Fortney, 21st CCLC Site Director
Pioneer Middle School