Empowering the Next Generation of Politicians and Good Citizens

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Published: Nov. 8, 2023 at 2:22 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The South Carolina Youth in Government program recently hosted its 34th annual model legislature and court conference.

This served as a chance for aspiring politicians to mimic what a true session looks like.

Regardless of your age, it’s never too early to use your voice to inspire change.

“When they are walking the halls, they might just think, ‘Oh I’m just one of hundreds. ‘But their voice truly does matter,” said Senior Staff, Youth in Government Sara Betenbaugh.

Thousands of students from across South Carolina recently made their way up the stairs of the State House. This was a chance for them to learn how to solve community problems through the democratic process, mimicking a typical legislative session.

“We’re really just creating a model legislature, judicial, and then all the auxiliary roles that would be part of what a legislative and judicial body would entail,” said Mary Capers Bledsoe, Executive Director, SC YMCA Youth in Government Program.

During the conference, groups from several school districts prepared from the start of the school year. They wrote their own bills based on an issue they felt passionately about and then presented it in front of their peers, right in the House Chambers, to then be voted on.

“They’ve got strong ideas, they’ve got opinions, and they have solutions,” Bledsoe said.

Though these proposed bills can’t truly go into effect, they empower the next generation of politicians to know that they have the capability to leave an impact.

South Carolina’s Youth Governor, Annika Krovi proves that once you start recognizing the weight of your words, the change will ultimately follow.

“I didn’t think I could get up and speak. I started in these chambers in middle school, and I would not raise my placard. I thought that what I had to say didn’t matter and that I really didn’t have a place in this sphere. As I got more comfortable with it, as I chose to speak up more, I started to realize that my voice did have an impact and the things that I was saying did matter to the people around me,” said Krovi.

Though using your voice sometimes could lead to a debate in these chambers, the arguments are not what they set out to do here.

As opposed to establishing a harsh line between sides, it’s about inviting all sides together to feel safe in expressing their opinions, regardless of their views.

“No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, in Youth in Government there is always a place for you at the table,” Betenbaugh said.

These students are starting so as they come into adulthood, they’re aware of the fact that despite any differences they may have, prioritizing community and comradery comes above all else.

“YIG reminds me that there’s hope because there are students here who disagree on pretty much everything, and we still go out and get lunch together and we talk about these issues, and we learn from each other, and we hear about each other’s diverse perspectives and passions,” said Krovi.

A lesson that organizers continue to push.

“Our goal is to really create the next generations of good citizens and by that we mean good neighbors. We want them to be aware of what’s going on in their communities; to feel like they’re empowered to make change where they see change is needed, and then to know the avenues that the change needs to be made in,” Bledsoe said.

So, this conference isn’t just meant to empower the next generation of politicians, but the next generation of good people.

For some, the impact of these youth in Government conferences may fade over time, as they grow and change into the community members they’re meant to be, but for others, the vision of change and hope keeps them coming back every time.

“So it’s just kind of a funny joke with my coworkers when I take PTO, they ask where I’m going, and I tell them I’m chaperoning a youth in government conference,” said Betenbaugh.

The conference serves as proof that empowering and inspiring if done early enough, can lead you down the path that you’re meant for in the future.

“If we don’t empower students to use their voices at this age, they’re never going to use it in the future. And that means casting your vote, that means going to election town hall, that means meeting with politicians, that means publishing Op-eds, that means any form of using your voice. And I think if we don’t teach them now that what you have to say matters and that political engagement and your civic responsibilities are important, they’re never going to carry that with them throughout life,” Krovi said.

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