Oregon Boys State at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Photo by Clay Lomneth/The American Legion

Boys State personnel encouraged to increase participation

Even after another successful year for The American Legion’s Boys State programs across the nation, program leaders know there’s still room to grow.

“We thought based on the attitude and the enthusiasm that was displayed last year and with everything we left the Boys State Conference with we would be looking at least 22,000 (participants this year),” Past National Commander Bob Turner, the Boys Nation director of activities, said during Saturday morning’s Boys State Directors Conference in downtown Indianapolis. “There is no reason, there is absolutely no reason, that we can’t have 25,000. They’re there. And when I look at our numbers, I just have to shake my head. … It’s not a money issue. You just heard Kentucky and I heard people last night who said, ‘We have corporate sponsors who are giving us $10,000 now.’ Those corporate sponsors are out there in just about every one of the 50 states; we’re just not asking, and it’s our fault.”

All told, the 49 Boys State programs hosted 19,570 participants this year, a slight increase from 2015’s 19,449 participants. And 25 departments had increased participation this year over last.

Still, Turner wants more.

“Let’s try to do a 10 percent increase,” he encouraged the Boys State directors and staff in attendance at the weekend conference.

The Boys State Directors Conference is part of the annual Americanism Conference; it allows Boys State directors and staff members to network and discuss best practices for the program, which provides rising high school seniors the chance to learn more about how government works.

Each of the 49 departments then sends two representatives to Boys Nation in Washington, D.C., in late July, where they participate in a mock Senate.

Americanism Division Deputy Director Mike Buss praised the Boys State directors and staff for their work, and Americanism Commission Chairman Richard Anderson noted the thousands of young people they impact each year.

“We’ve all made a major investment in the future of the United States of America,” Anderson said.

Among the departments discussing their practices was Kentucky, who brought students from W.T. Sampson School in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to this year’s Kentucky Boys State and Kentucky Girls State.

Dr. Peter Trzop, executive director of Kentucky Boys State, encouraged other departments to get involved in creating opportunities to allow children of servicemembers stationed overseas to return stateside to participate in Boys State.

“We do need more involvement overseas,” Trzop said. “… Other people can do this. This isn’t exclusive to Kentucky. If anyone needs help, they can call me, email, whatever, it’s not an issue; I want more people going overseas.”

New York’s department discussed the impact of using ROTC cadets as junior counselors. The relationship is beneficial both ways, as the Legion gets extra hands and support and the cadets get training opportunities.

For more resources from the conference, go to http://www.legion.org/boysnation/resources.

Boys Nation

At Boys State / Nation, participants learn the rights, privileges and responsibilities of franchised citizens. The training is objective and centers on the structure of city, county and state governments.

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