Who’s Who: Young Leaders Reveal Their Excitement
Jacob McKirdy was especially excited to have his voice heard.
Jacob was one of more than 50 young leaders who gathered at the annual Nebraska Children and Family Foundation’s Legislative Days.
“My passion is helping other people,” Jacob said. “I’ve helped with [my peers’] mental health, too. Sharing our stories can help others. I want to help others find their voice. I never had a voice. I was afraid of it.”
The eighth annual Legislative Days program provides young adults with the opportunity to learn about and engage in the legislative process. Perhaps most importantly, these youth leaders are also encouraged to use their voices.
During the weekend of Feb. 1-3, the young people learned about public speaking, the legislative process, observed a legislative floor debate and spoke with Supreme Court Justice William B. Cassel. They also looked over multiple bills currently in front of the legislative staff and formed their stances on a handful of them.
What’s What: An Overview of the Youth Leaders’ Presentations
On Feb. 3, the young leaders presented their research and opinions on current legislation before state senators, aides, and Governor Pete Ricketts. Each group delivered their stance on one of five current bills for senators at a special luncheon, and then later in the day for Gov. Ricketts.
The young people chose to present on abortion laws, the recognition/education of American Sign Language, changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day, rights for children under state care, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the Hunger-Free Schools Act.
Senators who were in attendance at the luncheon included Sen. Suzanne Geist, Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, Sen. Tom Brandt, Sen. John Lowe, Sen. Dave Murman, Sen. Sue Crawford, Sen. Dan Quick, Sen. John McCollister, Sen. John Stinner, and aides from Sens. Timothy Gragert, John Arch, Myron Dorn, Anna Wishart, and Wendy DeBoer.
Jacob’s passion for speaking out on behalf of himself and others, however, spans prior to Legislative Days. The previous week, Jacob had the opportunity to testify on behalf of bills that reflected his passions. He was among those young people who advocated for a foster care youth bill of rights, making his voice heard again.
“I didn’t have the opportunity to have rights,” said Jacob about his past foster care experience. Today, Jacob has found his voice both on paper and in person as he’s writing a memoir about his time experiencing foster care.
What Do These Diverse Young Leaders Share?
Although each young person’s voice is unique, they share some common attributes: enthusiasm and growth.
Chyanne Cusick said she was particularly excited to see growth within herself and her peers. “Shy [people] are the best because [they] can become amazing,” said Cusick, who added that many of the issues she supports relate to her personal experiences.
“I went homeless before the Youth Homeless Grant Development Process. Then, I became a youth leader. I love seeing youth develop into these amazing young leaders and [are] so ambitious. They’re willing to put their foot forward and lead into the future,” Chyanne said.
“From being in this situation [during Legislative days], I’ve really stepped out of my comfort zone,” said Brandon Andretti.
When asked what got him out of bed in the morning, Brandon was quick to respond: happiness.
“I believe love is the ultimate law of the universe,” he said. “I like to grow, learn, and expand. I’m a bit of a dreamer. My dream is to be excited, to be comfortable, and to humbly light up a room.”
Among one of Brandon’s memorable highlights included having lunch with Senator Geist.
“It was like, the perfect energy – meeting all these people,” Brandon said.
Organizations Behind the Faces: Who’s Who at Lincoln Legislative Days
No matter how powerful the voice, there is power in numbers. Behind each young leader was a program or initiative in support and in attendance. Those initiatives present included Governor’s Youth Council, Connected Youth Initiative partners, and participants from Learn and Earn to Achieve Potential.
The Governor’s Youth Advisory Council (GYAC)
GYAC was founded in 1993 and consists of young Nebraskans age 14-18 who have an interest in government. The members are a diverse group who convene quarterly to examine various issues that are relevant to our youth, learn about the government, enhance civic engagement, and serve as an advisory board for the Governor.
Connected Youth Initiative (CYI) youth partners
CYI connects community collaborations with resources, best practices, and evaluation to support young adults lacking connections as they transition to adulthood. Most members have experience with child welfare, juvenile justice, and/or runaway and homeless systems. Other CYI opportunities include financial literacy, central navigation of resources, and shared evaluation.
Learn and Earn to Achieve Potential (LEAP)
Spearheaded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, LEAP is a multimillion-dollar initiative with goals to increase employment and educational opportunities for young people facing sizable struggles including experiencing homelessness, the foster care system, and the juvenile justice system. LEAP works with its young participants to identify effective strategies to support their young constituents to succeed in school and work, especially those in the Lincoln and Omaha area who are transitioning out of the foster care system.