Pleasanton Weekly

Column - February 26, 2010

Teenagers shine at Youth & Government Day

by Jeb Bing

When my 14-year-old grandson Jordan Nally asked me to join him on a YMCA trip to Sacramento, I envisioned rafting down the Sacramento River followed by a campfire supper and a sing-along. Was I surprised. This was a statewide Youth & Government program that involved most of the YMCA organizations in California, including 28 high school students and three advisors from the Tri-Valley YMCA. As I walked to the Capitol and hotel meeting rooms, I found myself among 2,500 smartly dressed teenagers on their best behavior, each carrying thick binders with a 46-page "Model Legislature & Court" program schedule. The boys wore suits and ties, and since this was a five-day conference, they had to know how to tie their own ties each morning, which was a first-time challenge for some. The girls were also dressed professionally. For everyone in this freshman to senior age group, the dress code for this convention was far different from the high school campuses they represented.

The trip, under the direction of Kelly O'Lague Dulka, executive director of the Tri-Valley Y, and Jeff Atwood and Tim Stier, program director and associate program director, respectively, culminated the model legislature and court program year for the Y. Its delegation along with the others participated using the actual chambers of the State Supreme Court, Assembly and Senate to study and conduct mock state government work while producing a daily newspaper to cover all the developments. The Tri-Valley Y had been preparing for six months for this conference by attending weekly meetings and also by holding two preparatory conferences in central California. The freshman division of Youth & Government is called Forum and several of the local Y's ninth graders distinguished themselves. In a rigorous political campaign, I'm proud to say that my grandson Jordan was elected Speaker of the Assembly, which made me glad I was on scene to cheer. Other local leaders who were also elected to key posts were Grant Bonham, chosen at Senate Clerk; Vidya Awasty, Assembly Clerk; Madison Brinnon, Senator of the Year; Morgan Ingram, runner-up Senator of the Year; Dena Benham, Editor-in-Chief of the Forum Press; and Edward Wang, Editor of the Forum Press. Albi Solana came home with the Y's Political Action Committee (PAC) Team Award for his leadership and initiative as a lobbyist.

At the weekly delegation meetings preceding this conference, each delegation was required to write at least one bill to take to Sacramento for the Senate and Assembly to debate. Annie Dulka (Kelly's daughter), the Tri-Valley's bill sponsor, wrote and debated a bill that seeks to amend the elections code to allow a person that is defined as homeless to use a homeless shelter as their place of residency for the purpose of voting. Her bill quickly moved through the Assembly and went on to the Senate.

Mind you, this was serious business. Besides the program, the California YMCA model legislature printed a thick booklet each day of the convention that listed 284 different bills that were written by individual Y organizations. Assembly Bill 120, for example, written by the Wilmington branch of the YMCA of metropolitan Los Angeles, sought to amend regulations for provisional driver's licenses. The Santa Anita Family YMCA proposed AB 153 to require all pupils to complete 60 hours of community service in order to graduate from high school. Dulka's bill was AB 162, followed by AB 163 introduced by a San Diego Y that would require all DMV offices to stay open on Saturdays. Obviously, the students didn't take the state's budget deficit into consideration, a problem that has caused the governor to close DMVs on some Fridays each year.

I sat in a Jury Trial Training session where the Y youths were learning the difficulties of jury selection. Taking turns serving as prosecuting attorney or defense attorney, or as one of a number of prospective jurors, they were guided in their questioning by a volunteer Sacramento lawyer as they tried to seat a jury in a case involving harassment. In my experience as a juror or prospective juror on numerous occasions, my own view was that at least six of those finally chosen would have been rejected in a real courtroom, but the training session was a good one.

I was honored to be part of the "V.I.P." luncheon, along with six faculty members from the Pleasanton school district, including Amador Valley High's golf coach and Leadership teacher Clark Fuller and Adult Education principal Glen Sparks. Held in the grand ballroom of the Hyatt Regency, the room was packed with YMCA supporters, legislators and sponsors. I sat with the Palo Alto delegation, which operates half a dozen Y's on the Peninsula. Familiar with those Y's and their swimming pools and large workout rooms, I couldn't help but ask the Tri-Valley Y's Dulka why we don't have a big YMCA facility here. I quickly found my name added to her donors' list of those willing to help build one.


Posted by Pat, a resident of Bridle Creek
on Mar 3, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Enjoyed reading this positive story about our young people in town. Keep up the good work.

Posted by tennesse jed, a resident of Jensen Tract
on Mar 4, 2010 at 6:08 am

No "pants on the ground" or "hats on backwards" in this group! I am renewed!

Posted by Amador student, a resident of Birdland
on Mar 5, 2010 at 11:36 pm

It should be noted that Y&G is considered a "pay-to-go" extracurricular in the face of college admissions along with other such programs like NYLC, EPGY, and Johns Hopkins CTY. The truly prestigious programs are the ones that are highly selective and once chosen, are of costs that do not discriminate against less financially privileged families.

However, I suppose a program should not be solely judged based on reputation. It sounds like Y&G participants are enthusiastic and enjoy the experience. So ultimately, if they have a good time there, then there is no point arguing this case.

Posted by Michelle, a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Mar 19, 2010 at 7:26 pm

I must respond to the earlier post dated Mar. 5, 2010 suggesting that the YMCA provides an exclusive pay as you go program that discriminates against those who are financially disadvantaged. This is completely false. My daughter does pay to be a part of this truly extraordinary program. What you may not know is that no one is turned away from the program regardless of whether they can pay or not. The money collected for the program costs from those who can afford the "ticket price" helps to supplement the program in the lower economic communities. Some of the largest delegations represented are those from urban schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods. It is a first class program that empowers all students to have a voice and encourages them not allow their social or economic status limit their opportunities or expectations.

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