Saturday, February 18, 2012

Congress Seeking More Help From Youth

Matthew Wilson of Wethersfield, Conn.,
addressing U.S. Rep. John Larson's youth cabinet

By Yelena Samofalova and Erez Bittan
HARTFORD, Connecticut, U.S.A.  – Three years after U.S. Rep. John Larson broke ground by creating for the first time a youth cabinet to advise him, a second congressman has followed suit.
The Missouri congressman, William Lacy Clay, said he decided to create his own after seeing Larson’s group in action during an event last summer at the Harriett Beecher Stowe House in Hartford that drew a number of members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
On Saturday, the two youth panels held a joint session by teleconference to talk about their experiences and to address the topic of bullying.
Yelena Samofalova/
U.S. Rep. John Larson's youth cabinet

The purpose of the cabinets is to give young adults a voice in the operation of their government.
Larson said young people should have more access to the “levers of power in the United States Congress” and the cabinets are one way to make it happen.
One of Larson’s aides, Eva Bunnell, who came up with idea years ago, said she feels “young people deserve a seat at the table.”
Larson said that generally, “The opinions of youth are not taken seriously enough.”
Larson said his youth cabinet, which has representatives from most of the high schools in his district, is “actually making change” through its work. “It’s not just a passive appointment,” Larson said.
Cabinet member Matthew Wilson, a junior at Wethersfield High School in Wethersfield, Conn., said “even raising awareness of any issue by youth is really effective and just having this partnership with the congressman, where he listens to what we have to say and attempts to shape policy around it, that is very effective.”
Clay said the cabinets are a great example of what energized young people can offer to their community.
The acting co-chairman of the Congressional Youth Cabinet, Calvin Brown of Bristol, said that in order to have their voices heard, teens should get “involved with various things that are going on” around them.
“They bring to the table what’s going on in their own towns,” Bunnell said.
Wilson said that they measure their effectiveness by the number of people who approach them with problems.
The new Missouri cabinet and the Connecticut cabinet  may soon have more partners. Larson said two more are in the works in other states.
“It’s great to see our numbers continue to grow,” Larson said.
Clay said he hopes it will “spread like wildfire” and their end goal is to have 435 cabinets all over the nation, one for each congressional district.
Larson said he would like to bring the youth cabinet to the nation’s capital to meet government officials.
He said he would put them on train in Hartford and “we’ll boogie right into Grand Central” Station in New York before heading south to Washington.
Clay said he’d like to bring the two cabinets together at the Capitol but his group would have to fly there from Missouri.
They both said that perhaps two other youth cabinets that are forming elsewhere may be able to participate, too.
Larson said it couldn’t be a long trip because members are so busy but he’s sure it would be great.
Senior Reporter Kiernan Majerus-Collins contributed to this story.

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