Stanwood and Mill Creek Delegates along with Youth Gov. Sydney Kleingartner from the Thurston Delegation. (From top left to bottom right) Alexander Arzoumanian, Tyler Standley, Connor Conklin, Gabe Lopez, adviser Nick Eby, Jacob Cease, Heather Mimikos, Ella Worthley, Jakob Burke, adviser Kayla Gay, adviser Nolan Martin, Kate Hansen, Lucia Mahlum, Hailey Neal, Anna Hendricks, Taylor Nilson, Elena Munoz-Doherty, Madison Brimhall, Trinity Klomparens, Kayleigh O’Connor, Terra Pilch-Bison, Molly Georgis, Lexi Horrell, Jamie Cahoon, Isabella Foney, Sydney Kleingartner (Courtesy of Nolan Martin)

Stanwood and Mill Creek Delegates along with Youth Gov. Sydney Kleingartner from the Thurston Delegation. (From top left to bottom right) Alexander Arzoumanian, Tyler Standley, Connor Conklin, Gabe Lopez, adviser Nick Eby, Jacob Cease, Heather Mimikos, Ella Worthley, Jakob Burke, adviser Kayla Gay, adviser Nolan Martin, Kate Hansen, Lucia Mahlum, Hailey Neal, Anna Hendricks, Taylor Nilson, Elena Munoz-Doherty, Madison Brimhall, Trinity Klomparens, Kayleigh O’Connor, Terra Pilch-Bison, Molly Georgis, Lexi Horrell, Jamie Cahoon, Isabella Foney, Sydney Kleingartner (Courtesy of Nolan Martin)

At this conference, kids run the country

Youth and Government program lets young people take on all the roles to run a government.

MILL CREEK — Jakob Burke’s bill never made it out of committee.

He hopes for more success if he’s a senator again next May, though he’s thinking about working for the attorney general instead.

Burke, 18, is one of 22 Snohomish County teens who took part in the YMCA Youth and Government program this year. During the school year, students meet weekly to discuss civic issues and prepare for the annual state conference in May.

At the conference in Olympia, teens from all over Washington form a full youth government: governor, senators, representatives, pages, press corps, lobbyists, sergeant at arms, members of the governor’s cabinet — any role is open.

They work as though they really are in government. That includes proposing and debating legislation.

Many of the issues mirror topics under discussion by adult lawmakers. The students talked about homelessness and drug use, a carbon tax, free speech and Second Amendment rights.

“It was pretty realistic,” Burke said.

There were some jokes. One delegate introduced a bill to make pouring salt on slugs a crime punishable by death.

Terra Pilch-Bisson, Hailey Neal and Heather Mimikos, all 14, were part of the eighth-grade chambers this May. That was to prepare them for taking on larger roles next spring. The trio are headed into their freshman year at Jackson High School and plan to continue in Youth and Government.

Pilch-Bisson said the biggest challenge for her was debating maturely with people she disagreed with. However, she enjoys public speaking. Neal and Mimikos struggled more with talking in front of a large group. There were some questions they couldn’t answer easily.

“I figured out that if you just talk around it, that works,” Neal said.

Pilch-Bisson someday would like to run for office, maybe in Congress.

Burke might one day run for office, too, he said. His goal is to be a lawyer first.

Youth and Government has been in Washington for more than 70 years. Nolan Martin, youth and teen director at the Mill Creek YMCA, is the adviser there. His dad used to lead a program, too.

It’s not easy to convince students that an after-school program about how government runs will be fun, Martin said. Bringing pizza helps.

“Students do end up having fun, even though it’s about government, which can be a dismal topic,” he said. “A great thing about what we do here is it’s a community of students. A lot of the eighth-graders and high-schoolers didn’t know each other before they went to Olympia. By the end of it, they were all supporting each other.”

Last year, Martin had 20 students who participated from Mill Creek. He’s aiming for 30 this year.

The program was offered at the Mill Creek and Stanwood-Camano YMCA. Next year, Monroe is a being added. It’s open to all youth in grades 8 to 12.

Being part of Youth and Government is different than talking about civics in a classroom, the Mill Creek teens said.

“You go there, you see the building, you wear fancy clothes,” Pilch-Bisson said. “For me, it gave me a lot of ideas of how I’d like to change things if I were in government.”

She thinks politicians should steer clear of character attacks and be open to others’ ideas, she said.

There’s less history and more focus on the present in Youth and Government compared to at school, Burke said.

“It gets you thinking about how our government runs,” he said. “And is this something I’d like to do?”

It helped Neal see how parts of the system connect.

“I pay attention more, I think,” Mimikos said. “We’re not just taking notes. It’s interesting.”

During this year’s state conference, two local students won awards. Alexander Arzoumanian from Mill Creek was named outstanding senator and Trinity Klomparens from Stanwood was named outstanding representative.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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To learn more about Youth and Government or get involved, email nmartin@ymca-snoco.org.

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