BY JOE DORMAN
I enjoy the reaction many people give when I tell them my vacation following the legislative session each year is to take twenty-five Oklahoma high school students to a YMCA-sponsored youth camp in North Carolina. They see this as more work than an opportunity to recover from the stress and job duties. The week I get to spend at the Blue Ridge Assembly Hall with the seven hundred delegates and advisors with the YMCA Conference on National Affairs (CONA) revitalizes my faith in this young generation of leaders. Each of the students who attend this annual conference held the first week in July is charged with writing a proposal on a topic which will improve some aspect of the United States or the world. The students must come up with an innovative idea, do the research on the feasibility of the topic and make the case to their peers in a series of committees. The proposals have the chance to advance through four rounds based on voting by the committees made up of the students, and narrowed to the top six which are debated in a plenary session.
Oklahoma did very well at the conference this year as we had one proposal selected as one of the best written ideas, along with two students selected as outstanding statesmen in the program. We had one delegate selected as an editor in the media portion of the conference and the highest honor a delegate can receive, to be selected as one of six presiding officers the following year, was bestowed upon Libby Wuller, a graduating senior from Stillwater High School.
The Conference on National Affairs is the national forum for the various state Youth in Government programs, locally sponsored by the YMCA. Oklahoma had about 200 students attend their high school state conference in February, in which the 25 CONA delegates are selected based upon their abilities and leadership skills. I was proud of the four students from my legislative district who attended the state conference, along with the Lawton delegation which had three of their delegates receive a trip to CONA. There is also a 7th and 8th grade program available for students and we had a delegation start this year through the Grady County 4-H program, which I suspect will become popular with other county extension offices this next school year.
The ideas presented at CONA are offered by students from over 30 state and territorial delegations. I was especially intrigued by one proposal by a student from Arizona who suggested inmates sentenced to death row should be allowed an option to donate their organs upon the time of their death at the completion of their sentence. I have the House of Representatives research staff looking into the possibility of doing something like this in Oklahoma rather than using a lethal injection which would render the organs useless. I like the idea that these inmates could choose to help save lives by allowing their organs to be used for transplant surgeries as a way to partially redeem whatever crime it was they committed. If there is a way to do this, I will present this idea as legislation in the next session coming up in 2014.
I want to conclude this column by thanking the Oklahoman who oversaw our program for the past decade. Stan Barton, the Oklahoma YMCA Youth in Government State Director, has shaped and influenced an entire generation of young leaders through this work. Stan has served in different capacities with the YMCA for over forty years and is a true servant leader who represents the four core values of the program: Caring, Honesty, Respect and Responsibility. Stan has decided to retire and turn the program over to another, but the inspiration he has created will last a lifetime for the many student-leaders he has helped mold. I am honored that I have had the chance to work with him and assist with this program over the past five years, in addition to attending my fourth CONA. If you have an interest in learning more about this program, you can go to the Oklahoma Youth in Government website at: http://www.ymcaokc.org/YouthDevelopment/EducationLeadership/YouthinGovernment.aspx