So much for apathy: Teenagers tackle weighty issues


By Roger Li


To many, the word “teenager” is associated with apathy. For members of La Jolla YMCA’s Youth and Government program, however, that assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. At their latest meeting, these civic-minded teens debated everything from illegal immigration to eco-friendly tax breaks.

Youth and Government (Y&G) is a statewide mock legislature and court sponsored by YMCAs all over California. Two training conferences during the fall prepare delegates for their main conference in Sacramento, affectionately dubbed “Sac.” For four days in February, students take over the capitol, using state buildings and fulfilling their chosen roles. These roles vary from lobbyist to assemblyman to journalist to Supreme Court justice.

Ambitious students can run for statewide office. The few who are elected by their peers help run Y&G, leading its various program areas. One of La Jolla’s own, Michael Sacks, was one of the top five finalists in the race for youth governor last year.

“It was an amazing experience,” says Sacks about running. “I learned so much from it and it made me into a better person. I got the chance to meet so many kids from all over California and speak in front of a crowd of 2,500. Plus it was really cool to get recognized by people I didn’t know.”

Chad Matkowski, La Jolla Y&G’s lead adviser, shared his thoughts on the value of Youth and Government.

“The most important things to gain from Youth and Government are social awareness and learning through first hand experience on how democracy really works,” he said. “The program is designed for students that want to make a difference in the communities they live in.”

Marissa Rauthause, senior at La Jolla High and participant for three years, spoke of her experience with Y&G. “It really helped me blossom as a public speaker and as a person,” said Rauthause. “Before, I was really shy, but Y&G forced me to talk to people I didn’t know. Through Y&G, I think that I gained the confidence that I have today.”

For more information about the program, including how to join, contact Chad Matkowski at (858) 453-3483, ext. 141.

Roger Li is a senior at La Jolla High School.