Written with GYAC members Tanya Wasson and Ina Bhoopalam
Each year, members of the Governor’s Youth Advisory Council, or GYAC, come together for Legislative Days – a collaborative weekend gathering for GYAC and Connected Youth Initiative members to come together to talk about current issues in the Nebraska legislature, develop their positions, and work together on presentations to deliver to actual state senators and Governor Pete Ricketts. We asked GYAC members a few questions to help get a better picture of how GYAC works and what they hope to accomplish. Read on to learn more.
Nebraska Children: For the uninitiated, what exactly is GYAC?
Tanya Wasson/Ina Bhoopalam: The Governor’s Youth Advisory Council consists of a diverse group of passionate, enthusiastic, and intelligent Nebraska youth who are committed to voicing our opinions and taking a stand on public issues that affect our community. We work to expand our horizons by listening to the viewpoints of youth around us and discussing youth issues with experts on the topics of education, finance, agriculture, careers and employment, drug and alcohol abuse, and foster care.
NC: How are youth selected to the group?
TW/IB: GYAC members are selected through an extensive and thorough process. First, applicants are reviewed by a committee, and if they feel as if you are a good fit, your application is then reviewed by the Governor himself! Pass that, too? Congrats! If selected, you will now be one of us! This is truly a great and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to expand your knowledge and gain real-life experience if you are passionate and would like to pursue a career in government. You can check out Project Everlast and Nebraska Children’s websites for more info.
NC: What activities do youth participate in related to Legislative Days?
TW/IB: Legislative Days are a time for GYAC and the Connected Youth Initiative to team up to build up their leadership, learn to be better citizens, and advocate for issues that they are passionate about. This year’s group included members from GYAC, the Connected Youth Initiative, the LEAP (Learn and Earn to Achieve Potential) initiative, Boys Town, Project Everlast, Voices of Hope, and more. Through gaining knowledge on the legislative process and giving our opinion on current Nebraska legislation, Legislative Days participants attain the skills to inspire and ignite impactful change. To prepare for the end of Legislative Days, we have fun with icebreakers, hold policymaker round tables, build an advocacy campaign, and last but not least, create presentations to give to Governor Ricketts. On Legislative Day itself, we do everything from touring the Nebraska State Capitol to speaking with Nebraska senators and the Governor himself.
NC: What are some specific issues the youth focused on last year?
TW/IB: Last year, GYAC youth focused on issues ranging anywhere from agriculture to education, and this year, we were excited to do a lot more. In the previous meeting in August 2017, we presented to the Governor as to why agriculture literacy is important in Nebraska Public Schools. The benefits are fewer misconceptions and grater appreciation of agricultural communities. Also, for education development, a group of us expressed our feelings as to how the tuition rate has increased by 7% in Nebraska and tax-related information. We clearly made a huge impact last year and couldn’t wait to make an even bigger one this year.
NC: Is there anything the community can do to help support GYAC?
TW/IB: Yes! GYAC needs community support to be successful! The community can support GYAC first and foremost by encouraging its members and giving us a better insight on issues our community is facing. This helps us not only help ourselves but all the diverse communities that make up our beautiful state of Nebraska.
A Participant’s Perspective
Nebraska Legislative Day 2018 was full of education, but also fun and new experiences. The environment felt so positive, because it really felt like everyone present wanted to be there and truly learn how to make the changes they wanted to see. I could see the passion, intelligence, and overall joy in the people there. It really was such a great thing.
Going into Legislative Day, I knew very little about how I could use my voice to affect politics as a minor. I always thought that there wasn’t much I could do since I am not yet old enough to vote. Using your voice is so much more than voting, which is something I didn’t truly see or understand. We have the power to make so much change by communicating with our local politicians whether it be through a letter, an email, a phone call, or a face-to-face meeting. Our politicians are there to represent us. They want to know what’s going on and what they can do to make positive changes for us all.
Ultimately, from Legislative Day I learned how important my voice is as an individual, as well as how important everyone’s opinions and perspectives are. Everyone has the right to express what they believe and participate in improving our communities. This event really opened my eyes to this, and I believe it will continue to do that for many others within the coming years. “
Megan Jerabek, Legislative Day participant