The Ottumwa Courier

October 4, 2012

Iowa Youth Congress strives to make a difference

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — There are no middle school kids sitting in the Representative chairs at the Capitol in Des Moines. So they’ll have to wait until next year.

Sue Huff of Ottumwa said the high school-aged students involved in Iowa Youth Congress will soon head to the Capitol building to show how much they’ve learned about government — and to learn more.

“These are my volunteers from Iowa Kids University,” said Huff, the director of the organization.

A board started that group after Big Brothers Big Sisters closed their Ottumwa chapter. A friend told her they were having trouble finding participants for the youth congress, so Huff asked her most enthusiastic volunteers. She was also able to bring something that was lacking in those Des Moines chambers: Hispanic voices.

Many said yes, including those too young to participate in the mock congress in 2012.

“We’re looking forward to next year,” said Roberto Espinoza, a middle school student.

The boys in the group, all in middle school, are practicing this year.

“So we can be prepared for next year,” said Jacinto Rivera.

The girls, all high school age, are headed to Des Moines soon. They were at the Ottumwa Public Library, practicing with their coach, Frances Collins-Dusseault.

The girls said they are in the club to learn how to make a difference — and to do so. They also want to see political representation from every group, including Hispanics.

“I’m so proud of them,” whispered Huff in the back of the room.

The girls were working on “bills” like making Martin Luther King Day a more educational holiday to teach about civil rights. They did well last year, Huff said, and she’s expecting great things this year, too.

The boys don’t want to feel left out. So Daniel Ramirez, 13, said since they’re not taking their ideas for improving the community to Des Moines, they thought they’d see what they could do in Ottumwa.

“We want to improve the soccer program for kids,” he said.

They middle school guys had written out their plan, which included three basics: improved field maintenance, better equipment and more training for the coaches.

“In middle school, they don’t have an official team,” he added.

Learning about government and about how to get things done is one of the ways to demonstrate good citizenship, said Marvin Moreira.

Espinoza explained that good citizens include people doing things in which “we’re helping not just ourselves, but other people in the community.”