“YAG has changed my public speaking and drive for advocacy!” Those are the words of one North Carolina Youth & Government participant, but that sentiment is common among participants, according to Amber McClure, State Director for Youth & Government and Director of Teen Civic Engagement at YMCA of the Triangle.
McClure, who previously was a school principal and started this role in June, said there are currently about 90 student leaders and teachers delivering the program across the state, with about 1,000 students participating in the program each year, historically. Students who participate experience government first-hand and learn how to create public policy. The program is designed to grow civic engagement among young people to help them learn how to solve problems in their communities.
“The Youth and Government (Y & G) program certainly teaches teens about government structure and the democratic process, but a large part of it is helping youth develop confidence, and critical thinking skills, and helping them expand career and networking opportunities,” McClure said.
Y & G student leaders gather monthly on Zoom, and all participants gather in person at a fall pre-conference event (which was held earlier this month in three locations to make it more accessible to all the students participating), and at the 32nd Annual Youth and Government Conference, held in Raleigh each February.
“A substantial piece of this work is also how we are providing social emotional learning (SEL) support and guidance, as well as civic engagement resources so that our young leaders are well equipped to lead across the state,” McClure said. Currently, she works primarily through schools to form Y & G delegations, but YMCAs statewide are invited to connect with her.
“Local Ys can get involved at different levels, including serving as a connector to local school leaders, starting a local delegation at the Y, or by volunteering at the February conference,” McClure said. Comprehensive tours at the February conference also can provide Y leaders with a first-hand look at the process so they can learn more and engage their local community in Y & G.
The new statewide Teen Racial Equity Council, comprised of 17 teens from across the state who applied to serve on the council, is focused on teaching teens how to lead with a lens of equity. McClure said there is intentional training and collaboration with the Y of the Triangle’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Department to help strategically lead and guide the inclusive work of Y & G within local communities.
McClure also said that she is creating sustainable, engaging high-quality curriculum on civic health and delivering that to student leaders across the state. “We’re providing tools, resources, and instruction to empower youth to be changemakers their communities,” she said.