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YMCA Teens Gain Lessons in Democracy

By: PRLog

Students Push for Funding to Increase Youth Civic Engagement, Water Safety Programs; Introduce Policymakers Honored by NJ YMCA Alliance

TRENTON, N.J. - March 20, 2024 - PRLog -- Students from the YMCA Youth and Government program put their skills to test on Monday by encouraging New Jersey legislators to support funding for water safety and access to youth civic engagement, particularly in less-served communities.

Their appeals resonated with honorees and guests at a reception hosted by the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance, capping "Trenton Advocacy Day," a full day devoted to immersing the students in YMCA public policy priorities and giving them opportunities to connect to lawmakers and influencers in Trenton.

Five policymakers - introduced by high school students from the Newark YMCA Youth and Government (YAG) program - were celebrated at the event for their support of YMCA initiatives that strengthen youth development, healthy living and social responsibility in communities across New Jersey.

Sarah Adelman, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Human Services, was recognized as the Y's "Public Policy Champion" for helping New Jerseyans through the pandemic and recovery with the department's investments in child care, food assistance, support services for older adults and individuals with disabilities, protecting health coverage for more than 2 million residents and continuing to enhance mental health and addiction services.

Adelman said her participation in YAG as a teen helped her discover a "passion" and interest for public service and encouraged the students to stick with the program. She added that she is deeply honored for the recognition from "such a trusted partner" in serving people across New Jersey.

Honored as "Legislative Champions" were Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin (D-29); Assemblywoman Nancy Muñoz (R-21); State Senator Gordon Johnson (D-37); and State Senator Anthony Bucco (R-25).

Pintor Marin, the Assembly budget chair, was applauded for being a "fierce advocate" for New Jersey's children and working families, promoting many policies that align with the YMCA focus to help all youth achieve their full potential. Pintor Marin, who was first elected in 2013, said her work in Trenton is more than just helping businesses and people thrive, "it's also to make sure that we have programming that works." She thanked the YAG students for sharing the issues that are important to them and encouraged them to continue their advocacy.

Assemblywoman Muñoz worked as a nurse for more than 35 years and was honored for her "strong voice" for health equity in the legislature. She has played an important role in implementing policies to prevent chronic diseases, including increasing access to community-based programs such as the Y's prediabetes initiative, and for advocating to protect children from abuse and promote their safety and well-being. She called "water safety" a critical issue for children and said she will continue to advocate for the Y and for its core values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility.

Senator Johnson was recognized for co-sponsoring the Alliance's budget resolution every year that has provided state funding to support YMCA programs to combat food insecurity, social isolation among seniors, and to help close learning gaps for children impacted by the pandemic. He thanked the Y for helping thousands of people "live a better life." He added, "as a member of the budget committee, as a member of the New Jersey State Legislature, as a member of the New Jersey State Senate, I will be there for you."

The Alliance also honored Senator Bucco, the Senate Republican leader, for his advocacy for health equity, food security, and understanding the important role that YMCAs play in meeting community needs. "The Y has always been a place where people can assemble, whether it's to exercise or to gain services," Bucco said, vowing to continue to support the Y, especially "the youth program that's been on full display today."

CEO of the Alliance Julie Gallanty said she is proud of the YAG students from the Newark Y and the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County who helped advocate for state funding that would enable more teens to participate in the civic engagement program and to increase access to the Y's life-saving water safety programs.

"These teens are tomorrow's leaders, and they give us such hope for a bright and more equitable future for all," Gallanty said.

Raphael Montoya, a 16-year-old in the Newark Y's YAG program, said the youth development initiative has taught him valuable lessons that he wouldn't have learned anywhere else. "YAG is just an extremely welcoming program that allowed me to grow as a person and I will always be thankful for that," he said.

About the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance

Andrea Plaza

Photos: (Click photo to enlarge)

Newark teens help advocate for YMCA funding. NJ Y Alliance honors Commissioner Sarah Adelman.

Source: New Jersey YMCA State Alliance

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