YMCA of the Triangle

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Fostering Connections: March 5, 2024

Occasionally, I hear my peers express concern about the next generation of leaders. Questions might center around young people not being engaged beyond their phones or teens lacking leadership skills. I’m guessing our parents asked the same questions when we were young.

If you attended the YMCA Youth and Government Conference in February, you witnessed 850 high school student leaders from across the state meaningfully engage with real people and in the legislative process, and they dispelled any doubts I had about the next generation.

Each year our Y hosts these students in a mock youth legislature complete with a governor, cabinet, senators, house members, a judicial branch, press corps and even lobbyists. This conference is held in Downtown Raleigh at the Convention Center and the Sheraton and is the culmination of months of preparation by the students.

This year, I hosted a group of real NC Legislators in a tour of the program. We watched both a mock murder trial and a bill being debated by three young men in the Senate who argued whether student-athletes should have the opportunity to postpone school assignments that fall on the day after a major sports event. Naturally that caused some debate. I’m not even sure if the bill passed and was signed into “law” by the governor, but the arguments for and against were impressive and the discourse on both sides was respectful. How refreshing.

During election years, there are times I want to turn off the TV because the rancor among candidates can be difficult to watch.

I don’t see this with our young people. What I see at Youth and Government and in most Y programs are children and teens with diverse backgrounds enjoying and supporting one another. Maybe it’s because they’re surrounded by incredible role models (our staff) who exemplify the traits of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. What we pour into our children – and the adults who walk through our doors – gives me hope.

Our Y is perhaps the greatest vehicle toward unity in our community.

Today is Super Tuesday with a dozen states – including North Carolina - holding their primary elections. In addition to presidential candidates, there are more than 20 state and local offices up for candidate selection. If you haven’t already voted, I encourage you to take full advantage of the privilege.

And know that when teens from our Y’s Youth and Government program are running the country in 20 years, things are going to be just fine.