Wa­ialua High Stu­dent Comes Into Her Own As Youth Gover­nor

MidWeek Islander (Central Oahu) - - Central Oahu Islander - By JAIMIE KIM

With the ap­ti­tude of some­one well be­yond her years, it’s no won­der that teen Shawna-Leigh Balon re­cently served as the youth gover­nor for the YMCA Youth in Govern­ment leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

Spend five min­utes talk­ing to her and you sense her ma­tu­rity and com­mand of the role.

“It ed­u­cates you on what goes on around the state, and it also gives teens or stu­dents the voice — the voice that we hardly have, or the voice that we’re afraid to have — and it gives us a chance to speak up for what we be­lieve in,” said the Wa­ialua High School ju­nior.

“And it gives us the chance for the adults or the lead­ers in our com­mu­nity and in our state to see what we want, too, for a bet­ter fu­ture.”

Cur­rently in its 62nd year, the YMCA Youth Leg­is­la­ture is of­fered an­nu­ally to stu­dents in grades 6-12. Af­ter a hiatus for two years, it re­turned this spring for three days dur­ing which stu­dents con­ducted a mock leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

In ad­di­tion to elect­ing a youth gover­nor, stu­dents also chose a speaker of the house, se­nate pres­i­dent, del­e­gates and other roles.

This year, it at­tracted 85 stu­dents from schools through­out Oahu.

The process to be­ing se­lected youth gover­nor be­gan with Balon and other can­di­dates speak­ing about their goals. Af­ter de­bat­ing oth­ers and a fi­nal vot­ing process, stu­dents who se­lected Balon as their leader weren’t the only ones to rec­og­nize her tal­ent.

“She makes ev­ery­body feel im­por­tant when they’re speak­ing — be­cause to her, they are,” said Kaimuki YMCA ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Noa Hussey.

“They picked some­one who is truly try­ing to work on their lead­er­ship skills,” he added.

Though seem­ingly a nat­u­ral for the de­mands of lead­er­ship, Balon had a rocky start in her fam­ily life. Luck­ily, the op­por­tu­nity of­fered by Youth in Govern­ment opened new doors for her.

“My only way out was join­ing the pro­gram, get­ting in­volved, and I found ev­ery rea­son to get out of my house be­cause it was just too much for me,” she said.

“It gave me the op­por­tu­nity to want to get out, to want to get in­volved, and it gave me the op­por­tu­nity of be­com­ing gover­nor be­cause it mo­ti­vated me — that I don’t want to be stuck at home all my life, I want to do bet­ter for my­self.”

In her role as youth gover­nor, Balon was re­spon­si­ble for plan­ning the state ses­sion that in­volved stu­dents vis­it­ing the State Capi­tol, where they were able to pro­pose their bills. She also had to re­search bills and would make her­self avail­able to any­one that needed help.

For other stu­dents who are think­ing of try­ing out the pro­gram, Balon has the fol­low­ing ad­vice:

“I would en­cour­age other stu­dents be­cause this pro­gram opens a lot of doors, it shows you a lot of pos­si­bil­i­ties and op­por­tu­ni­ties out there.”

Stu­dent gover­nor Shawna-Leigh Balon ad­dresses the Hawaii Youth Leg­is­la­ture on open­ing day of the ses­sion. Photo courtesy YMCA of Honolulu.

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