Local students awarded at weekend conference

Middletown, NJ – The Community YMCA’s youth delegation recently attended another successful trip to the Youth & Government Conference, held April 16-18 at the New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton, NJ. The Youth & Government Program is part of the YMCA’s civic engagement initiative to introduce young people to politics and to encourage community involvement by creating a cohort of students who are empowered and informed about their government. Students from all over the state are invited to participate in the weekend-long conference and voice their opinions about New Jersey politics.

In order to participate in the program, students must research, write, present, and debate their own bills; they must choose an issue of real concern and then proffer a solution that they feel will be the most beneficial to the citizens of New Jersey. This year’s bills included the construction of a super skyscraper in NJ, the decriminalization of marijuana, the legalization of gay marriage, the legalization of physician-assisted suicide, the prosecution of cyber harassment and the reform of teacher tenure laws, amongst others.

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Students in the NJ State Assembly acting as legislators to debate and pass laws.

The 2010 Conference marked the inaugural year of the YMCA Junior Legislators Program, in which middle school students are given the opportunity to take part in a modified format of the high school program. The Community YMCA hosted 14 middle school students from three local schools: Bayshore Middle School, Thompson Middle School and Thorne Middle School. These students were not only exposed to the process of debating and passing bills, they also simulated the roles of the NJ Supreme Court Attorneys and Justices, as well as being given the chance to act as lobbyists.

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Junior legislators at the YMCA’s Youth & Government Conference.  Top from left: Allison Alfonso, Nina-Marie Amadeo and Kristen Lind from Bayshore Middle School, Middletown.  Bottom right: Logan Ryan of Thompson Middle School, Middletown.

The Community YMCA Delegation was also represented by 14 high school students from 5 local schools: Holmdel High School, Middletown North High School, Red Bank Catholic, Red Bank Regional and Rumson Fair Haven High School. In addition to the ten students who acted as legislators, one worked as a lobbyist for the NJEA, one acted as a State Attorney, and Lauren Hochman (Red Bank Regional) and Dave Weissglass (Holmdel) held officers’ positions as the Commissioner of Health and the Speaker of the Assembly.

The students who were involved in the program benefited from being introduced to new ideas and coming up with creative solutions to the problems that are facing New Jersey today. The efforts of the delegates from The Community YMCA Delegation were recognized as follows: Chris Habiby (Holmdel) and Logan Ryan (Thompson) were given the Outstanding Statesperson awards in recognition of their outspoken and passionate arguments on behalf of the people of the state of New Jersey. Ari Beller (Red Bank Regional) was awarded with the position of Assembly Clerk for the 2011 Conference; Richard Chang (Holmdel) was appointed to the position of Senate President for the 2011 Conference. Outstanding performance during the Youth & Government Program Conference is recognized with an invitation to participate in the Conference on National Affairs (CONA), which takes place in North Carolina in July. Selected students meet and confer with the elite of their peers to discuss issues of national importance. The Community YMCA delegation had three students who were invited as alternates: Shannon Pace (Red Bank Regional), Dave Weissglass (Holmdel) and Lauren Hochman (Red Bank Regional) and two students, Ari Beller (Red Bank Regional) and Chris Habiby (Holmdel) who were invited as full participants.