YMCA Youth Win Delegation of Distinction
DEVEN RADFAR contributed to this story
The Pacific Palisades YMCA Youth and Government delegation, consisting of 163 high school students, received the Delegation of Distinction Award in Sacramento in February.
This was the second year in a row that this group has received the prestigious award. Twenty-nine students were elected or appointed to state positions, and four of the five bills proposed by Palisades students were signed by the youth governor at the five-day conference.
“Palisades is the third or fourth largest delegation in the state of California, with the largest delegation being East Valley Los Angeles with 250 delegates,” according to Palisades Y & G Delegation President Deven Radfar.
In 2012, Pali sent 11 delegates, the following year there were 30 and last year 115.
Ali Sheaffer has been the lead advisor for the past three years. “I think the program has become so popular because our group has a lot of fun together!” she said. “We made it our goal three years ago to achieve Delegation of Distinction, and since then our delegates have taken ownership of their program.”
To join Youth and Government, teens must fill out an application and go through an interview process. “Anyone who is in the delegation is there because they want to be,” Sheaffer said. “We have created a culture of acceptance and family within our delegation and it shows in the way these teens are always happy to come to meetings and see one another.”
YMCA Executive Director Jim Kirtley said, “The YMCA Youth & Government program changes these teens’ lives in an enormously positive way. The butterfly effect from the impact of this program is more than I could possibly list.”
The program, which teaches high school students about how government works, is a hands-on opportunity to experience democracy. Once a year, these students take over the California Capitol and state court house. They hold elections, pass bills and debate possible legislature. Those in court, argue and hear cases.
Clement “Pete” Duran, an Albany, New York YMCA director, who wanted to find a way for youth to become active participants in government founded the program in the mid-1930s. He developed a hands-on, learning-by-participation model to help youth learn how community problems are solved through the democratic process.
The six-month program was initiated in 1948 in California with support from Governor Earl Warren and has been supported by each successive governor.
Operating under the slogan, “Democracy Must Be Learned by Every Generation,” the Youth and Government program is open to all high school students, private and public. The cost of the six-month program per individual is $1,700 and includes travel, housing and meals. The group does fundraisers and some financial assistance is available.
Last November and in January, 165 Pali Y & G students went to Fresno to participate in the annual training and elections conference. About 3,500 students state-wide are separated into individual “program areas” based on what area of government they are passionate about, ranging from a Board of Education, Department of Finance, Environmental Protection Agency, and Legislative Houses.
Delegates in this program have the opportunity to run for statewide positions in their respective areas. A typical delegation of Pali’s size has 10 to 15 delegates who receive statewide positions; however, the Palisades delegation had 29 delegates serving this year.
At Sacramento, four of the five bills passed through the Senate and Assembly chambers were signed by the Youth Governor. They now will go to California Governor Gavin Newsom. (Editor’s note: The state’s bike helmet law was a bill that was created through a Y&G program.)
Bill 1101, sponsored by Charlotte Osterman and Noah Rhodes-Gorman, asked that eating disorder treatments be included in Medi-Cal health benefits.
Bill 2115, sponsored by Henry Andrews and Laila Tehrani, sought to ban the use of oxybenzone in sunscreen products.
Bill 3215, sponsored by Yael Berukhim and Sophie Levy, would enact a clearance system for receipts in stores.
Bill 2111, sponsored by Noah Weissman and Lucy Hayes, aimed to eliminate the use of recording on electronic devices.
Students appointed to or elected to state positions included: Deven Radfar (Avocado Party Chair), Coco Nakano (Poppy Party Chair), Kayla Rafie (Governor’s Cabinet), Kenneth Gee (National Issues Commission Presiding Commissioner), Jessica Jacobs (Assembly Forum Speaker), Michael Shemian (Legislative Committee Chair), Ryan Patton (Department of Finance Committee Chair), Zachary Garai (Lead Justice), Emme Rackham (Lead Respondent), Nova Akhavan (California Emergency Team), Eli Safaie-Kia (Media Technical Director), Aaron Ben Cohen and Willow Saxon (Chairs National Issues Commission), Miles Stein (Chief Clerk of the Assembly), Ryan Shad (International Affairs Commission Special Rapporteur), Kian Farahdel (Constitutional Convention Presiding Speaker), Milly Hopkins (Lead Appellant) and Zennon Ulyate-Crow (Chair Department of Finance Committee).
The Forum Committee Chairs included Drew Rosen, Charlie Kastner, Dylan Small, Sasha (Alexandra) Schoettler, Ethan Shamoeil, Ella Donel, Sam Marcus and Avani Desai.
Radfar said, “Stay tuned for the amazing work that our students do.”
For more information, email Ali Sheaffer (AliSheaffer@ymcala.org).