There's a simple concept behind the California YMCA's Youth & Government program: If you put young people into situations where they examine their ideas, they often discover their personal values and beliefs in a way that they have never experienced them before.
"The motto of the program is, 'Democracy must be learned by each generation,'" says Kelly Dulka, executive director of the Tri-Valley Y. "In addition to learning about democracy, the delegates develop public speaking skills, learn to debate and gain confidence in their thoughts and beliefs. While learning concrete things like parliamentary procedure, generally what they discover are their passions in life."
The Y's Model Legislature & Court, which started in 1948, provides students with the opportunity to experience government first-hand, learning how to solve community problems through discussing and debating issues with their peers.
"The kids learn about parliamentary procedure, they learn how a bill goes from idea to argument to legislation, and they learn all about the governmental structure and what agencies are involved," says Dulka. "They practice debate skills and learn how to think critically. All of that is great but what they really discover is who they are and what's important to them."
Dulka's fondness for the program comes from observing its effects on its participants, including one she knows quite well. "My younger daughter, Annie, was a delegate for three years and served as delegation president. Through her participation, she made great friends from very diverse backgrounds, she learned a great deal about government, and she discovered her passion for politics. She has gone on to intern for Eric Swalwell's congressional campaign and this summer served as an intern for Senator Barbara Boxer. She's made politics her life pursuit and is a Political Science major at Cal.
"Her story isn't unique. I could share with you a million stories of how kids' lives are changed by their participation. Kids who you would never tap for leadership, kids who are shy and awkward as freshman, kids who are just normal kids enter this program and are transformed into confident, caring, engaged citizens, ready to take on leadership in a world that desperately needs it."
Any high school student who wishes to participate is welcome. Delegates meet weekly on Wednesday evenings from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. at the Tri-Valley YMCA in Dublin. In addition, they spend time together planning and executing fundraisers, researching their bills, and meeting in groups on various projects.
For additional information on the Y's Youth & Government program, contact Kelly Dulka at (925) 263-4450.
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