If you don't really want to read everything, just read the first and last 2 paragraphs. But if you really want to get a complete scope of what this program means, please take the time to read everything :)
My name is Reva Panda. If you are checking out my page, I hope that you know that Youth and Government is an amazing program and that you should definitely donate because the money you give helps a lot of teenagers learn about democracy and California legislature. If you are completely unfamiliar with the program, no worries! The basic description of Youth and Government is that it's a mock state legislature and court program offered to high school students all across California. We have weekly meetings with our local delegations and partake in 3 statewide conferences. The program teaches lessons about civic engagement, community, and advocacy. Now while that may seem like a great pitch line, it only scratches the surface of what this program is. If you aren't convinced yet to donate, let me share my story. Hopefully you'll see how exceptional and life changing Youth and Government is.
My story starts back in 2013 when I was in 7th grade (I know that seems like eons ago but bear with me). Back in 7th grade, my mom forced me to join the Cal YMCA Model United Nations program. You see, in elementary school and middle school I was terrified of public speaking. Whenever I had a book report or a piano recital, my palms would start sweating, my body would start shaking, and I wouldn't be able to utter a single word. Even though my delegation was only 7 people, I barely spoke. I was always nervous that I would say the wrong thing, or make a fool out of myself. It became increasingly harder when we went to our conferences. For reference, middle schoolers don't get the luxury of nice hotels and fancy conference centers. They get Camp Roberts, a military base in the middle of nowhere. Living in barracks fit for housing 50 people for 2 days when you only know two other people can be nerve racking. But what especially terrified was the sessions. In both MLC (the high school program) and MUN (the middle school program), everyone is divided into different sections of the legislature or organ of the UN. When your in a small delegation, this means that there is a 95% chance that you are going to be in a room where you don't know anyone for a better half of the day. Coupled with my fear of public speaking, this mean that I was nervous to speak up about issues. When they asked for volunteers, I never raised my hand. I worried that I would say the wrong thing or that someone would judge me. But what I lacked in volume, I made up for in my attentiveness. I was mesmerized by the way that kids my age were able to talk about issues with such confidence, such knowledge, such passion. From deforestation to the Israeli Palestine conflict, delegates were able to come together and talk about the problems and find solutions. And the best part was that they were encouraged to do so. None of the advisors talked over us. They treated us as equals with merited points of view. They let us debate and discuss every issue. And I was inspired. I loved watching everyone around me share ideas. At the end of the day, I would lie down on the slightly springy cots and just think about everything that I had learned. Slowly, I started to think that maybe, just maybe I could speak up too.
The next year, when my mom asked me if I wanted to continue the program, I jumped at the chance. This was going to be the year that I spoke up. Now, don't get ahead of yourself. I wasn't the kid who had a one year turn around and magically found the confidence to speak up in front of 3,500 delegates. I started small. I began speaking up more and contributing to my delegation meetings. Even though there were only 9 of us, I was proud that I could slowly begin to argue my point of view. I began to see merit in my ideas and understand that my contributions had impact. When the conferences came, I became less scared about interacting with the people around me. I began to make friends outside of my delegation and chat with the people sitting next to me in sessions. I started to become more confident in myself. In plenary session, I surprised myself by standing up and asking a question in front of 100 delegates. Now for some people, this feat might seem unremarkable, but it was life changing for me. You see, my fear of public speaking stemmed from my fear of judgement. But even though I was shaking and I stuttered while questioning the speaker, I was met with complete support from my fellow delegations. I even saw a few spirit fingers, a sign of acknowledgement and support, in the audience. It was the catalyst for my love in politics and public speaking. When friendship ceremony, our annual end to the program, started. I remembered feeling so sad. But, then the high schoolers who had volunteered to help mentor us told us about an amazing program called Model Legislature in Court. They claimed that the program was even better than MUN and that joining the program would be the best decision of our life. I had no idea how right they were.
In freshman year, I remember going into my first high school meeting with butterflies in my stomach. I had no clue what to expect. But when I walked through the doors, I was met with noting but love. As I quietly stood at the side eating a slice of pizza, I watched the returing delegates greet each other with hugs and laughter. Their happiness filled the room. They all strutted around the small YMCA room as if they belonged it. When the session started, I was immediately included in the ice breakers, but I was astounded at how close everyone already seemed. But I began to realize why later that night. At the end of the meeting the president at the time began speaking about her experiences. Everyone listened to her attentively, and gave her the space to lead. But what really struck me was what she ended the meeting with. She said, "You get what you give in this program." While I doubt that she thought anyone would remember it, those words stuck with me. I realized that even though I had loved the program, I could get so much more out of it if I pushed myself out of my comfort zone.
For the next few years, I started becoming more and more involved in the program. I was my delegation's bill sponsor in my sophomore year which let me speak in front of 250 delegates (middle school Reva was so proud), I debated appelate court cases, and now I am trying my luck at tackling national issues in NIC. I've grown to become a more world conscious person. I volunteer at everyone of my delegation's community service events, I go to city council meetings, and I like reading about what is going on in our country. I even ran for leadership positions in my delegation. I am now the current president of my delegation, a role that I love more than anything. These experinces have given me a lot of confidence that reached outside of my involvement in Youth and Government. I began to be more outgoing and more self reassured.
But the best part about Youth and Government is the second family that I have created. I come from a delegation of 20 people. While this may seem small considering the fact that delegation sizes can range from 3 to 250, I love coming from a small delegation. Every week I get excited to go to delegation meetings because I love spending time with them. Even though we may not all agree with each other politcally, we challenge and build constructive debates that are always entertaining to participate in. We have created a community of acceptance and friendship. Whenever I have a bad day, I always know that they will be there to cheer me up. From jamming to our favorite music together to bickering on the bus to making memes of each other to cheering each other on when we speak during session, my delegation has taught me more lessons that I can count and has made me feel so incredibly loved and empowered. I wish that everyone could share this experience with me.
Unfortunately, the reason why many people don't get to have these amazing things happen to them is because of financial barriers. To be totally blunt, Y&G is expensive. A lot of people come into delegation meetings, have fun and then don't return simply because they can't afford it. And that honestly really stinks. But that's where you get to come in! All the money that you donate will be given to help delegates who are in need of financial aid. Even a dollar will make a difference. The best part about Y&G is the community that you get to create. No one should be excluded from it.
I know that this explanation was super long winded, but I hope it gives you some idea on what this program means to people. It's not just for the kids who can easily step onto a stage and speak in front of 3,500 high school students, but it's also a program for that shy brace faced, acne covered, low ponytail wearing 7th grader to find her voice and learn more about the world around her. Please donate to make a difference in a person's life.
- Reva Panda