Another year brings more youth civic engagement |

Another year brings more youth civic engagement

Jihada Muhammad was part of the issues and activism team for the program.
Submitted photo by MaryJane Huenergardt

For some, political engagement is a lifelong venture.

That’s particularly true for participants in California’s YMCA Youth & Government Model Legislature & Court program, which came to a close in February.

The program offers high school students the opportunity to replicate the work of the California State Legislature, the state’s court systems and other political professionals. About 3,000 to 3,500 students organize from August until February into 95 YMCA delegations, according to MaryJane Huenergardt, lead advisor with Nevada County’s Gold Country delegation.

The program is vast as students adopt roles that range from legislative analyst to lobbyist and member of the board of education.

Two training and election conferences occur in mid-November and mid-January. These events prepare students for their roles at the five-day Model Legislature & Court conference at the State Capitol in Sacramento. While there, bills written by delegations and sponsored by local rotary clubs are brought to be reviewed in committee, voted by youth senators and assemblymen, and signed — or vetoed — by the youth governor.


“I’d say about a good 30 were signed (out of 800),” said Mia McKnight, a youth legislative analyst, Gold Country delegation representative, and sophomore at CORE Placer Charter School. This meant that 30 bills are to be reviewed by the current governor, Gavin Newsom, she said.

The youth-sponsored bills have the possibility of becoming state law. From 71 years of the program’s existence, 11 state laws have been enacted, including laws on safety belt and bike helmet use, said Huenergardt. The program sometimes inspires youth to become future politicians.

“The current mayor of Sac was a youth and government delegate,” said Huenergardt.

This year, there were six Gold Country delegation participants, said Huenergardt. McKnight herself became involved after gaining an interest in politics during the 2016 presidential election.

Despite her initial influence, McKnight learned about the importance of civic engagement on the local level.

“You may not have the power to affect all of California,” she said, “but you may have the power to affect Nevada City, Grass Valley or Nevada County.”

In her position as legislative assistant, McKnight oversaw four bills, two of which were signed by the youth governor.

“The amount of information and knowledge you get from researching these bills — it was truly an awesome experience,” she said.

Contact Sam Corey at (530) 477-4219 or at

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