“I call for the previous question…”
“I object, your Honor…”
Each year these calls ring out in the legislative and judicial chambers of most state capitols in the United States. It is the voice of teenage America demanding that the bill under debate be voted upon or that some point of law in the courtroom be clarified. It comes from the nation’s finest seedbed for leadership – the YMCA Youth and Government Program. Initiated by the New York State YMCA in 1936, this unique and highly educational experience for high school age youth has spread to involve 37 states from Hawaii to Maine. About 60,000 teenagers and 2,500 adults participate across the nation annually in Youth and Government.
The purpose of Youth and Government is to prepare young people for moral and political leadership as well as informed citizenship in the American democratic process. Guidance, training, and experience are provided in all three branches of government — “Democracy must be learned by each generation.”
Each year the students who decide to work as Legislators become involved in the process of identifying areas of critical need that can be alleviated or remedied on the state level. These students form small groups (3-4 students) with an advisor and develop a bill following extensive research from September through November. These bills are tested and perfected at two pre-legislative sessions. In March, the program climaxes with the students and advisors arriving in Springfield for a 3-day assembly. In Illinois, the students are privileged to sit in the actual Senate and House Chambers in the Capitol to debate their legislation, with the Youth lawyers and justices occupying the original Supreme Court at the Capitol and the Fourth Appellate Courtroom in the Supreme Court Building.
The Judicial Branch of Youth and Government is designed to give high school students a broader understanding of our judicial system by affording them the opportunity to serve as youth justices, lawyers, witnesses, jurors, clerks, and bailiffs in actual appellate cases. An optional local trial may still be held at the discretion of the local advisor. The program climaxes in Springfield in March, with each student serving both as a lawyer appealing his case and also as a Supreme Court Justice hearing the cases of others and rendering decisions.
Other Program Phases
In addition to the Judicial and Legislative branches, students may participate as Newspaper reporters, Video personnel, Lobbyists, Legislative Assistants, elected officials — Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, Chief Justice, Speaker of the House, President of the Senate, etc.
How to Become Involved
The program can be implemented in several ways. Most often, an interested high school student or teacher contacts his nearest YMCA or the State Youth and Government Office (see telephone number and address below) for specific information. In some high schools, Youth and Government students form extra-curricular government clubs, and several are actively working with Illinois state legislators, judges and lawyers. The major value of this program continues to be in the development of young men and women who will be better citizens, knowledgeable and active in determining the future of their democracy.
For further information regarding Illinois YMCA Youth & Government, please contact Illinois YMCA Youth and Government Headquarters.