VALRICO — Seth Reid got the bug four years ago when he attended his first junior assembly for Youth in Government.
Since then he has been a bill-writing machine, a speech and debate coach, and a mentor to younger students who want to hone those skills.
Reid, a home-schooled senior in high school, now is governor for the YMCA’s program designed to create future leaders.
“Some of my mentors really made a personal connection with me and I want to do that with the younger kids,” the 17-year-old said.
The program is free and open to all middle school and high school students. The chapter at the Campo YMCA in Valrico is the largest in Hillsborough County and three of its members hold state offices: Reid is governor, Ali Renckens is editor in chief, and Andrew Murray is president of the Senate.
Youth in Government, or YIG, has been in Florida for 56 years. Delegates serve on a youth-led model of the state’s government, learning about issues that affect their lives from road projects to immigration; from school programs to human trafficking.
Amy Shoucair, president of the Campo club, said students write bills on everything — from how to address childhood obesity to giving tax incentives for the development of water-saving technology. “I’ve learned so many skills I wouldn’t have learned anywhere else, and I’ve developed lifelong friendships,” she said.
The program, Shoucair said, is based on the Y’s values of responsibility, respect, caring, honesty and faith.
Shoucair doesn’t plan to pursue a political career — she’s looking at cosmetology and theatrical makeup — but she will be an informed voter, she said.
“These kids go to Tallahassee for a week of intense issues,” said club volunteer advisor Patty McClure. “They learn to put together an agenda, they learn how elected officials operate and they mimic Tallahassee government without party politics.”
“We focus on issues that are actually at the forefront in Tallahassee,” Reid said. And in some cases, the YIG members will turn their bills in to local legislators for consideration. In some form or another, their ideas occasionally get in to actual laws, he said.
Reid, who does hope to run for public office, said one of his ideas is to require high school students to take and pass a citizenship test similar to the one new citizens must complete. “If they are coming from another country and they have to know all that stuff, why shouldn’t we?” he said.
YIG Chapters are found throughout Hillsborough — at Y locations and in some high schools, including Durant High, which opened its chapter this school year. To learn more, visit floridayig.net and look for a local chapter.