YMCA Model Legislature & Court event highlights Youth & Government program | TheUnion.com

YMCA Model Legislature & Court event highlights Youth & Government program

Bjorn Johnson
Staff Writer
Members of the Youth & Government Model Legislature take care of state's business on the Senate floor of the California State Capitol.
Submitted photo by MaryJane Huenergardt |


Those interested in participating in a Gold Country Delegation of the YMCA’s Youth & Government program should email MaryJane Huenergardt at mjdirect@gmail.com or call the Gold Country YMCA program line at 530-584-9622.

Youth & Government, a 69-year-old program in California put on by the YMCA is dedicated to bringing youth into government.

“Democracy must be learned by each generation,” states the Y&G’s motto, expressing its goal of educating and including youth in the process of government, utilizing tools such as a mock legislature, mock elections and real-life politicians to introduce youth to the political process.

The program is aimed at not necessarily producing politicians, but active and engaged citizens, said Christiana Dominguez, a delegate advisor.

The Y&G offers multiple programs, including a media team that covers events, a model court, a model legislature and debates on state, national and international issues. They discuss proposed bills with a full process that includes introduction, amendments and eventually, a vote on the bill.

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The media team emerges to cover the five-day joint session in Sacramento, producing new stories, photos and videos, as well as social media campaigns for youth candidates running for office. This year’s coverage can be found on their website http://www.yandgnews.com which also includes links to social media efforts on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

The Delegates

“(Youth and Government) is different for every single person” said Ariana Trujillo, the 69th youth governor, the highest elected position for youth in the program.

Trujillo lived a good portion of her life in Venezuela, where she said she watched many of her rights stripped away by government. When she moved to the United States, Trujillo said she was interested in making sure she could participate in government, and that led her to YMCA’s Youth & Government program.

Another member, Emiliano Gomez, said he joined for his interest in politics developed from living in Sacramento.

Gomez says he was inspired, being in the “spotlight of the Capitol,” where he could really see state government at work. After participating in a few political campaigns he joined Y&G, where he says it helped him overcome his shyness, taught him how to compromise and introduced him to the process of government.

According to the program’s statistics, Y&G alumni are significantly more likely to register to vote as compared to those who were not members of the program, with 96 percent registering, compared to 66 percent of those who did not attend; and 87 percent against 54 percent in actually voting.

Another example of Y&G’s impact on participants include furthering education, with 88 percent of alumni receiving at least a bachelor’s degree against 25 percent for those who did not attend.

These statistics are based on a study of more than, 1,000 Youth & Government alumni by Dr. Mary Kirlin, formerly of Indiana University and currently at Sacramento State University.

Gold Country Delegation?

The Gold Country YMCA is working to bring Y&G to Nevada County.

To be a delegate there is a fee of $1,600 a year, however the steep price comes with financial aid options, through the YMCA and also local fundraising. MaryJane Huenergardt, an advisor from the El Dorado Hills delegation who lives in western Nevada County, hopes to be lead advisor for a Gold Country delegation next year.

“I’m particularly excited about the Youth & Government program, which seems like a natural fit for our politically active community” said Huenergardt.

The local delegation would be part of the Capitol Coalition, which currently includes El Dorado Hills and Sacramento Central. Meetings would be local but members would travel together for large events to pool their resources and to collaborate.

Other aspects such as volunteer opportunities, fundraising and other activities can also be shared between the coalition. This approach has enabled the coalition to not turn any interested participant away due to funding issues in recent years, said Huenergardt.

Huenergardt said she interested in soon hosting some sort of information night, as she has several delegates interested in coming to talk to local students directly to help build interest for the program.

Local meetings would likely be offered on a weekly basis, but time and day would determined by the actual Gold Country delegates. Some delegations make use of local school buildings, such as the El Dorado Hills delegation. Huenergardt said she is interested in that approach, if it can be worked out with a local school.

Those interested in participating should email MaryJane Huenergardt at mjdirect@gmail.com or call the Gold Country YMCA program line at 530-584-9622.

VIP Day event and the joint session

President’s Day weekend marks the largest of three joint sessions for Youth & Government, as young people flood the Sacramento Convention Center, the Hyatt and Sheraton hotels and the State Capitol building. The event includes electing next year’s youth officials, debating and voting on youth legislature and proposing changes to the program.

The majority of decisions for Y&G are made by the student delegates.

By the end of the weekend, the 70th youth governor and chief justice, and other leadership, were elected to office. This year there were five candidates for each position. Their campaigns include signs, social media coverage, and speeches before the entire joint session.

Friday’s “VIP Day” included West Virginia State Representative, Saira Blair, R-Martinsburg, who was essentially elected straight out of the West Virginia Youth & Government program. Blair was the youngest person to ever be elected to a state legislature at the time. She won against a two-term incumbent, at the age of 17 in 2014.

Blair shared her story with the full joint session, including how the Y&G helped her cope with her fear of public speaking, and enabled her to be elected to office.

Henry Stern, a 34- year-old Democratic Assemblyman from Los Angeles, vowed to bring more youth into the government and spoke fondly of the Youth & Government program.

“We are going to find space for you in this democracy,” Stern told the crowd of more than 3,000 students at the joint session.

Contact Bjorn Johnson, a Bitney College Prep High School student and an intern with The Union, at ncpcintern@theunion.com.

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