Nearly 500 students representing 25 high schools and 12 State YMCA Associations will travel to the 54th Annual Florida YMCA Youth In Government – “YIG” – State Assembly, held at the state capitol in Tallahassee this Thursday, February 24th to Saturday, February 26th. Students will have the opportunity to serve in the actual Senate and House chambers and Supreme Court during the 3-day session. State Assembly convenes Thursday evening with the swearing-in of Youth Governor Alex Fahnlander (Fort Myers – Lee County YMCA) and Lt. Governor Chelsea Jordan (Lakeland – West Central Florida YMCA), then gavels into order at the capitol on Friday morning at 9:00 AM and adjourns sine die on Saturday at 3:20 PM.
The students attending this year’s assembly continue a tradition that spans more than a half-century, with many YMCA Youth In Government alumni now serving at the local, state and national levels. Notable alumni in public service include newly elected US Congressman Dennis Ross of Lakeland, Florida Speaker of the House Dean Cannon of Winter Park, State Representative Seth McKeel of Lakeland, and newly appointed Circuit Judge Nicholas Thompson of the Twentieth Circuit Court in Lee County.
When asked about his experience in the program, Congressman Ross explained how Youth In Government “fosters those leadership qualities in students which are necessary for their future success – dedication, commitment, compromise, and respect. I know first hand, I participated in the program when I was in high school, and it lit the fire of my desire to become a legislator.”
The YMCA Youth In Government State Assembly represents the culmination of the year-round YMCA civic engagement and service-learning program that offers high school students in both school and YMCA-based chapters around the state the opportunity to participate in a youth-run, youth-led model government process. Youth Governor Alex Fahnlander, along with her fellow 11 Presiding Officers have served as a youth “Board of Directors” for the program since their election last February, meeting throughout the year to plan and facilitate the program for their peers.
Youth Governor Fahnlander has stated that reforming Florida’s foster care system and protecting funding for arts-related education are the top priorities for her administration’s FY2012 state budget and legislative agenda. House Speaker Nathaniel Rossum (Orlando – Central Florida YMCA) and Senate President Hilary Jessup (Fort Myers – Lee County YMCA) have made increasing efficient mass transit and tax incentives for bringing new, innovative manufacturing jobs to Florida the top issues on their respective legislative dockets during the session. Current issues such as financing high-speed rail and teacher merit pay/tenure are also the subjects of student legislation expected to reach the floor in both chambers.
2011 marks the 75th Anniversary for the national YMCA Youth In Government movement. Clement “Pete” Duran of the Albany YMCA established the program in New York in 1936. The Florida program – then the Florida YMCA Youth Legislature – was first held in December of 1957 under the leadership of T. Aubrey Morse of the Tallahassee YMCA. Today, YMCA Youth In Government provides service learning and civic engagement opportunities for over 56,000 students around the United States.