TOPEKA, Kan. – A government conference for teens is expected to attract more than 250 youth ages 13 to 18 from across Kansas to Topeka, the state capital – Feb. 17-18.
The event is headlined “Citizenship in Action” and organized by Kansas 4-H, which strives to teach youth leadership, citizenship, and community service, said Sarah Keatley, Kansas 4-H events coordinator.
And, while Keatley will be on hand to assist with many of the conference details, she credits the Kansas 4-H Youth Council with taking responsibility for planning the gathering.
Youth council event co-chair, Katie Connor, a high school senior from Lenexa, Kan., believes “youth can make a difference.”
“We can read about government, go to class, and talk about what other people do – or don’t do–but it’s not the same as being in Topeka, discussing the issues with your peers, and presenting potential legislation at the capitol,” said Connor. She credits her experiences at previous Citizenship in Action conferences and 4-H with helping her to become a more capable young adult able to serve in a leadership capacity to create opportunities to others.
Connor, whose fondness for family pets inspired her initial interest in 4-H, is sharing leadership responsibilities for the conference with Leah Kimzey, from Fredonia, Kan., who is a freshman at Kansas State University.
Kimzey is serving on the youth council’s conference planning committee for the second time.
As conference co-chairs, they worked with nearly 30 Kansas 4-H Youth Council members to identify key issues and research three topics of interest to teens:
* Modifications to recent changes in school lunches.
* Safety in schools.
* Resolving hunger in the state, with possible mandatory participation from farmers.
On Sunday afternoon, the 4-H delegates will gather at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka and will divide into three caucuses to discuss one of the issues and potential legislation to resolve it.
After caucusing, teens will gather for an evening meal with motivational speaker, Nick Levendofsky, from Republic, Kan.
Levendofsky is a former Republic County Pioneers 4-H member and a 2010 graduate of K-State, where he earned a degree in agricultural communications. He is coming off an unsuccessful bid for state representative in Kansas’ 106th District.
Levendofsky said he’s appreciative of his education and in running for office, campaigned for increased support, rather than cuts, for education, and job creation, including jobs in smaller communities suffering from declining populations and loss of economic vitality.
His first try at elective office fell short, but his interest in government is strong, as evidenced by his position as special projects coordinator for Kansas Farmers Union, a position that has taken him to Kansas’ 2013 legislative session.
“The new duty fits my interests,” said Levendofsky, whose assignment includes reporting legislative issues to farmers throughout the state via traditional and social media and blog.
Levendofsky said he intends to challenge the teens to step up as leaders, and suggest that something as simple as looking to the sky the next time a flock of geese flies over can offer a lesson in leadership.
“The birds know when it’s time to lead – and when it’s time to back off and follow,” said Levendofsky, who noted “birds usually take time to do both before arriving at their destination.”
4-H delegates will travel to the Capitol, take their seats in the House or Senate Chambers, and their turn stumping for their issue and proposed legislation during the mock political session.
“Access to the House Chamber is a privilege,” said Kimzey, who explained that teens can approach it cautiously, but typically leave much more aware of the democratic process.
To close out the evening, 4-H delegates can attend a dance, movie or evening swim.
As part of the trip, delegates are encouraged to donate socks, hats, gloves and underwear for the Topeka Rescue Mission as they attend the event of their choice.
Kimzey introduced the idea last year, adding that delegates donated 740 pairs of socks and enough money to cover the cost of 900 meals at the rescue mission.
Before heading to the Capitol Monday to meet with legislators, the 4-H delegates will be treated to a legislative breakfast, thanks to Kansas’ Capitol Federal Savings Bank, which also has provided more than 40 scholarships for youth to attend the 2013 conference.
At the Capitol, Sen. Forrest Knox, of Altoona, who represents Kansas’ 14th District, and Rep. Larry Hibbard, of Toronto, who is beginning his first year as a representative for Kansas’ 13th District, will speak to the youth.
Hibbard, who previously served as a school and township board member, said his concern about cuts in education prompted him to run for state office: “I wanted to learn more about the leadership process at the legislative level. My experiences in 4-H have provided a good background for me to understand how meetings work, and to know how to organize my thoughts and convey a message effectively.”
“To effect change, we have to be open to new ideas – and willing to work on it,” said Hibbard, who also will join local 4-H members for lunch at the Capitol.