Two and a half hours down, two and a half hours to go. As I miserably sat in traffic with the rest of my family on our drive down to Encinitas, California for a little getaway, I remembered that the closing joint Spring session of the YMCA Youth and Government program had just begun.
I opened Zoom on my phone and listened to the webinar. The awards portion of the ceremony began, and I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard: “Rookie of the Year, from the Pacific Coast Youth, goes to JJ Hoffman.”
I joined the Y&G program on a whim: It was mid-December, I was curled up in a ball on our couch, scrolling through Instagram, when a random thought popped into my head. I remembered hearing about a program called Youth and Government a few years back, and I instinctively searched for a YMCA Instagram account. Sure enough, I found it, and the latest post warned of registration closing in two days.
I don’t know what pushed me to sign up, but I remember feeling nervous in the minutes before my first meeting with the rest of the students in my delegation. I felt nauseated; the anticipation was akin to the kind I feel before a cross country race or public speaking. I worried that everyone else knew each other and were all great friends, and I was afraid of being left out and excluded.
This was all due in part to the program technically starting a few months prior to me joining, and noticing how I was the only one added to the group chat, hinting that everyone else already participated in the program for the fall session. As I clicked on the Zoom link sent to our group chat, my stomach trembled nervously and I decided that this would be my only meeting; after this meeting I would be done.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. What I encountered in that meeting was a small group of delegates with two advisors, Nannette and Nico. Throughout the next few weeks this group of people would teach me how to write a bill: researching prevalent issues that affected California and writing abstracts and enacting clauses, parliamentary-procedure, and all of this fancy, political jargon that I never understood before. And after a few weeks, I got the hang of it. I’d log on to Zoom at 6:30 p.m. and we’d be done by 8. Though still too nervous and shy to speak much during the meetings, I felt content with my progress; I was back inside my comfort zone. And so I was inevitably pushed out of it again.
“There are leadership roles for this session.” “If you don’t feel like you’re ready… go for it! We are here to help you!” The messages in GroupMe glared through my screen. I sat staring at my phone, completely unsure of what to do. Time had stopped and I was frozen, eyes glued to the screen as Don Johnson’s “Heartbeat” played in the background. Then, almost impulsively, I texted Nannette, “I’m interested.”
Many meetings and applications later, I was appointed Committee Chair. My job was to guide a group of delegates from different delegations through the parliamentary process in discussing four bills, including my own bill I wrote back when I joined, which focused on the impact of COVID-19 in California’s prisons. With my lack of public speaking skills and my precariously typed up notes from a training session, I felt vastly unprepared for the task ahead of me.
Through icebreaker activities, late nights on Zoom, and having my bill passed and signed by the 73rd Youth Governor, Andre M., the winter session concluded. And I was ready for the Spring session. To save time, I will briefly describe it: I, along with five other delegates, were chosen to be School Board Presidents. We uncomfortably led icebreaker activities with over 100 delegates on Zoom, which is no easy task. Eventually, we signed six of 24 proposals aimed at improving the school system.
What is my point in writing this article? It is less aimed at my experience and more of an encouragement for all those out there who maybe have heard of Y&G, who maybe have a small interest in government or politics, for those who are introverted and feel stuck in their comfort zones: Do Youth and Government. Due to the pandemic, everything was online this year (which enabled me to join, since it was more accessible), but next year, I’ve heard great things about its in-person events and final conference in Sacramento.
The experience is unparalleled, and I deeply regret starting it this late in my high school career. Through Y&G, I was able to lead groups as an introvert, meet many new people, experience what writing a bill was like, and so much more. And for this I have to thank Nannette, Nico, everyone I met during my time in Y&G, and The Pacific Coast Youth.