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Middle and high school students with diverse backgrounds gathered Saturday eager to participate in the YMCA Texas Youth and Government conference.  Bright faces of America’s future were dressed in business attire and ready to take on real world issues as a rehearsal for their dreams of the future and over 1200 attendees from 72 delegations gathered at the District 5, Dallas conference held at Centennial High School in Garland.

The morning opened to a full auditorium of students who cheered during a welcome speech by keynote speaker Pete Sessions, US Congressman representing the 32nd District of Texas.

Sessions spoke about the importance of kids staying off drugs and how success comes with staying “true north with god, family and country.”

Sessions also reminded those in attendance that how you talk to people and treat people makes a difference and he said “Experience life in a way that brings honor, character and purpose.”

The theme for this year’s conference was “Preparing to Shine Together.”

The Youth and Government conference is a means for local clubs to simulate the legislative and judicial sections of government in the United States.

“All middle and high school students from private, public and home school are welcome, as long as they are affiliated with their local YMCA Youth and Government club,” said Jennifer Struble Association Teen Director District Director,Youth & Government, YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas.

As the morning began attendees Donnecya Martin, Isabel Benavides and Traelon Rodgers mingled around talking about their day.

Martin, a third year participant and a senior at Law Magnet Townview said “This helps kids in ISD’s who do not have the knowledge of youth and government or politics and we find this is great to help us in school too with verbal skills and to compete.”

Benavides, who said her favorite aspect of the conference is the debate, was planning to debate the idea of raising the penalty on marijuana possession. Benavides is in her second year with the conference and attends Business Magnet Townview.

Students achieved hands on learning by putting what they have learned in their clubs into practice while maintaining the four core values of the YMCA, respect, responsibility, honesty and caring. 

 “This conference is also a qualifying and preparatory conference for the State Youth and Government conferences in Austin in January and February, as well as the Model United Nations Assembly in April,” Struble added.

Youth and Government organizers believe it is paramount that young people learn how to be responsible citizens and future leaders.

“Without their knowledge of basic government processes and the inspiration to be engaged in their communities and with their government leaders, democracy is in danger,” Struble said. “Our program motto coined by our founder, Clement P. Duran, is ‘Democracy must be learned by each generation in order to survive.’" 

Awards were given including Distinguished Delegate awards based on scoring systems in their sections, as well as character performance. A special award was given to one person from each section for their outstanding servant leadership called the Angie Baggot award, named for a former Plano teen worker who was very passionate and beloved by teens and her community. The top three trial teams won trophies, as well as the top Appellate moot court team and this year Tyler Technologies awarded three $2,000 college scholarships to the top scoring trial prosecuting and defense attorneys, as well as the top presiding trial judge.

“This program is not only for the government nerds and the academically driven,” Struble concludes.  “This program brings out the very best in every teen.”    

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