A number of years ago I had the pleasure of working with three different age groups of Lake Almanor Basin youth as the local coordinator of the Plumas County Alcohol and Drug Friday Night Live programs.
While it’s been many years since my thoughts have returned to those times, I do remember with pride the excellent judgment and commitment exercised by these young people.
The basic tenant of these programs is that they be “youth driven”; my job was to keep things real and provide direction as needed.
At the startup of the programs, each age group had to hold elections, set up and keep on topic with meeting agendas. They also learned event planning and accountability for both meeting attendance and fulfilling the responsibilities of their self-assigned tasks.
While they were incredibly successful at every endeavor one memory is a real standout, likely because this is the year voters will go to the polls and make their choice as to who will be president of the United States for the next four years.
The circumstance of the memory was the election held by the youngest group of kids, those in grades four – six.
The process was held over two meetings. In the first meeting I provided the explanation about how the youth were in charge of their club. I followed this by advising that they, as club members, would be holding an election for officers at the next meeting.
I went on to describe the job responsibilities of club president, vice president, secretary and treasurer and then I asked them to spend the time going into the next meeting thinking about whether or not they wanted to run for one of the officer positions.
They were also asked to go one step further. If they wanted to assume one of the positions of leadership they needed to be prepared to stand up in front of their peers and say why they felt they were the best candidate for the position.
Two weeks later there were approximately nine candidates ready to speak at the pre-election forum. While some were a bit better at public speaking than others, no one could doubt the seriousness of their intentions.
The focus in the room by each and every club member, candidate or not, was beyond amazing.
At the conclusion of the forum, election ballots were prepared and polling stations were identified throughout the community resource center.
Before sending the youth out to vote I took a few minutes to explain how the ballot worked and what I felt were the duties of a responsible voter.
The members were reminded that this was “their club and their election” and the important choices they would be making might impact how well they would do as a club for the remainder of the school year.
In stressing the importance of choosing the right man or woman for the job, I provided them with age appropriate examples.
I told them the election was not about who might be the most popular in school, who could throw the ball the furthest or even who was the funniest person in class. The election was about choosing who they felt would do the best job for them and the club for the remainder of the year.
After all votes were cast non-candidate club members collected, tallied the ballots and handed me the totals.
I was so astounded with the results you could have knocked me over with a feather. As a matter of fact, I was so proud of those kids I literally began to tear and nearly had to step out of the room.
I had the life experiences and several meetings to study the personalities of the 23 club members and I could not have done a better job of choosing the right people for the jobs than these young people did.
While the process was supposed to be a learning experience for the youth I’m not so sure that I wasn’t taught the greatest lesson of all.
In each instance, these kids shrugged off peer pressure and departed from what can be called the “playground party line” to make serious choices about their future.
As the weeks passed, the program and the youth blossomed. They, like their entrepreneurial bank account, continued to grow. Goals were set and exceeded.
Looking to the November election, there is nothing I could wish for more than the opportunity to recapture the joy and pride I felt during that long ago club election.
Here’s to hoping my voting peers can be equally as astute as those young club members when it comes time for them to mark their ballots and set the future direction of our country.