The and the are helping to train tomorrow’s leaders today.
Students involved in the YMCA’s Teen Civic Advocacy and Government program and the Hispanic Resource Center’s Youth Leadership and Civic Education program got practice Thursday at the YMCA Center in White Plains presenting bills and answering questions from the audience on the bills they wrote, which then went to a vote.
“I think what the important thing about this program is that it really teaches kids how to be a force in their own community,” said Deborah Bagatta-Bowles, the president and CEO of the YMCA of Central & Northern Westchester. “It teaches young people about civic advocacy and really puts the power in their hands.”
The students will present their bills in Albany next weekend at the New York State YMCA Youth & Government Conference in Albany. The programs are sponsored by Con Edison’s Power of Giving program, which focuses on fostering civic engagement, and seeks to bring non-profits together to collaborate.
Bagatta-Bowles said Con Edison saved the YMCA’s program from the chopping block.
“This program was in jeopardy and Con Edison came to the rescue,” she said. “We’re not only able to run the club, but improve upon it by serving more kids, offering it to a diverse population and adding more elements then the program had before.”
Zoe Colon, the executive director of the Hispanic Resource Center, said Con Edison made it possible for the center to have its first youth program.
“We’re really interested in developing young people and making them aware of some of the challenges that come with being from the Latino or African American community—and helping them to develop a strong sense of identity and leadership skills emphasizing on the importance of being an agent of social change in your community,” said Colon. “
Teens from the Hispanic Resource Center presented their plans to advocate for the Dream Act that would allow undocumented teens who graduate from a New York State High School to receive government financial aid.
The YMCA teens presented bills on evaluating teacher’s performances and corresponding salary scales, establish streamline secondary education and develop nuclear plants throughout the state.
“I think it was a great combination between the two groups they compliment one another,” said Colon. “The YMCA focused on the legal aspect, looking at the actual bills in the legislative process. We focused on group and community organization elements and how to get the community involved for pushing for bills to pass legislation, and what needs to be done to make sure their voices are formally heard."
Erika Vidales, 16, a junior at Rye Neck High School, said the program has helped her grow intellectually and personally. Along with developing an appreciation for how government and the law work, she has gained confidence, she said.
“I really like how we get to know ourselves on a deeper level,” she said. “You develop more self-confidence and realize that you can be a leader. I’m generally shy, but once I got to know the group, I developed more confidence.”