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A Joint Mission to Inspire Our Future Leaders

June 25, 2024

By Deanna J. Santana, Acting CEO and President, MissionSquare Retirement and
Suzanne McCormick, President and CEO, YMCA of the USA

The MissionSquare Foundation is focused on strengthening communities by supporting the long-term wellbeing of youth. A core component of the Foundation's efforts includes cultivating civic-mindedness, critical thinking, and leadership skills in future leaders. We are focused on helping close the youth civic engagement gap by connecting students to opportunities that strengthen civic health of communities across the country.

The Y and MissionSquare Foundation believe in the power of young people to shape our future communities for the better. That’s why we have teamed up for a multi-year partnership to provide more students with greater access to Youth and Government® programs across the country. We believe the best way to support young people on their journeys to become future leaders is to support their passions and increase their opportunities for civic and community engagement.

We are thrilled to have gathered in Washington, D.C., the week of June 10th with some of our country’s brightest and most enterprising minds – the YMCA Youth Governors.

At this annual YMCA Youth Governors Conference, high school students elected to serve as their state's Youth Governor gather in preparation for leading their respective states' Youth and Government programs for the coming year.

Youth and Government programs help young people develop critical thinking skills, refine their civic voices, and build confidence in their abilities and ideas. By participating, students become contributing members of their communities and gain skills that will equip them to join the workforce and eventually lead their communities.

In today's climate of discord, programs like Youth and Government serve as powerful antidotes to charged rhetoric and unhealthy combativeness. They enable students to engage others in productive, respectful ways, emphasizing the humanity of everyone—even those with differing viewpoints.

For nearly 90 years, the Youth and Government program has stood by its motto: democracy must be learned by each generation. Across the country, the program involves more than 55,000 students in civic engagement, advocacy and service learning.

Research shows that young people with opportunities to develop and express their ideas have greater civic engagement and are more likely to vote later in life.

However, not all students have equal access to such opportunities. Students in rural communities and Black and Asian students report fewer experiences where their voices matter or where they can participate in civic or political processes. To bridge this gap, the Y and MissionSquare identified communities where new or expanded Youth and Government programs could increase civic engagement opportunities.

In the first year of our partnership, 25 schools launched new programs and many more expanded their reach to welcome more students. Scholarships enabled dozens of students to participate in events like their state's Youth and Government conference, and 47 received financial support to attend the Youth Governors Conference in Washington, D.C.

Last year's Youth Governors Conference featured the inaugural MissionSquare Bridgebuilder Award. This award celebrates youth-led solutions that promote civic engagement, constructive discourse and common ground.

Kentucky students Arushi Bansal and Conner Brumley received the award for their podcast series, "Common Ground in the Commonwealth." Their conversations encourage and support students' diverse political viewpoints and exemplify the power of programs like Youth and Government to create opportunity for today’s students to grow into the leaders we need for tomorrow.

When young people participate in civic activities, they can turn their ideas into actions to solve our shared challenges, ensure local communities thrive and create long-term strategies for improving our civic discourse. By creating opportunities to engage in civics and understand their own power to better society, we’re preparing our young people to meet the moment and investing in a brighter future for us all.

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