In February, Francesca Reece (Trinity High School, Fort Worth) and Derrick Golden (Lakeview Centennial High School, Garland) from the Texas Youth & Government program represented Texas at National Advocacy Days in Washington, D.C. On the subway ride from the airport, they realized this trip was different than any other they had experienced; they weren’t there to sight-see, they were there with a purpose. They enjoyed getting to know other delegates from around the nation, listening to speakers and seeing sights such as the Smithsonian and the White House, but their involvement in policy discussion and advocacy was at the heart of their experience.
As they moved into policy seminars at the historic Mayflower hotel, they learned that the Y was bigger than they believed it to be. They heard key information and statistics from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the American Medical Association as it relates to the Y’s legislative priorities of Child Protection Improvement, the Medicare Diabetes Prevention Act and opposing charitable deduction limits and caps. They also were excited to hear from FEMA administrator, Craig Fugate, Chief Public Policy Officer for the Y, Neal Denton, and Y of the USA’s very own President and CEO, Kevin Washington. Inspired by U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek H. Murthy, and his desire to stem the ever growing issue of Diabetes in America, both of our delegates felt called into action for the Diabetes Prevention Act. Derrick learned that leadership means sometimes leaning back and letting the stronger person lead. That person was Francesca. Her grandmother, for the last 15 years of her life, was not mobile due to diabetes related issues, and ultimately lost her life because of the disease. Francesca could speak knowledgably and passionately about this issue from a personal view point, lending more gravity to the cause. In meeting Congressmen Brian Babin, John Carter and Lamar Smith, along with a very special meeting the Scott Cunningham, staffer for Congressman Kenny Marchant and former Texas Youth & Government Governor, they learned that everything they assumed about government gridlock was different. Compromise isn’t always about belief systems and stubbornness; sometimes it is just about logistics. They also learned that the Y is more diverse than they believed. Both having come from diverse backgrounds, they walked away at ease knowing that the Y is truly dedicated to serving all of the community.
Francesca and Derrick landed in snowy D.C. expecting to be treated like minor league players, the token youth saved for a photo opportunity. Instead, they were fully integrated into the big league process of policy meetings. In Youth & Government, they simulated the process for many years, taking it seriously. This experience in D.C. showed them that what they learned in the program was the perfect jumping off point to their discussions with advocates and to their future careers in public policy. Both have expressed that this visit sparked a desire within them to serve the Y and its cause to strengthen communities, perhaps for their lifetimes. That is the heart of teen programs like Youth & Government – connecting young people to a cause they believe in and giving them an opportunity to make a difference.