Every year, chapters of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA or the Y) around the country sponsor mock legislative sessions for high school students. This program, known as the Youth & Government program, has the goal of developing young men and women into better citizens by being both knowledgeable and active in determining the future of our democracy.
The Marion Polk County YMCA in Salem organized this event. From Wednesday through Sunday, Feb. 6-10, the Oregon State Capitol in Salem was open for these students to sit in the chairs of their government leaders and even meet a few of them. Furthermore, WU provided space for activities and events.
Director Nekole Baurer has been in charge of this program for many years, but this was the first year that Willamette has participated in the program.
“This collaboration with WU has increased the value of the program by exposing high school students to a college campus,” she said. “It increased the ‘wow’ factor of the program… It really helps create an opportunity for students to look at the bigger picture. If I’m leaving high school and these are things I’m interested in, it defines a path for students looking for a path.”
The Youth & Government program usually consists of a mock legislative session running Wednesday through Saturday, which requires a lot of room for different trainings and meetings. Historically, these rooms have been in a local church building and the Y building and have frequently not had heat. Often, students had to use children’s classrooms and sit in child-sized chairs. According to Baurer, the partnership with Willamette has upgraded Youth & Government “from a kindergarten program to an adult program.”
This year, due to weather concerns, the students were not allowed to stay the whole weekend. They were able to come down Wednesday and stay through Friday evening, but had to leave Friday activities early and could not come back Saturday to finish the program. Despite this, Baurer was very happy with how this year went, discussing how smoothly Wednesday, Thursday and the beginning of Friday went. Much of this is owed to Willamette’s participation, she said.
According to Baurer, to be successful in her position, “You have to have a level of excitement and you want to see constant improvement a lot of human connection to make things go smoothly. It takes vision to know where I need to go. Know who you’re doing it for.”
When asked how she has made so many positive improvements to this program, she said, “Gosh, I get up and eat breakfast and get some good sleep.”
As Baurer stated, “Kids going into this program are high achievers just on level of involvement and wanting to be active citizens, active in their communities.” Baurer’s hope is that this program and its partnership with WU can help students learn more about their government and how they can be involved in years to come.