Amanda Hancock, left, and Katie Janca, both of Alfred M. Barbe High School, flank Jack Vanchiere of St. Louis Catholic High School. The three participated with other young people in the Family and Youth’s Leadership Center for Youth. (Karen Wink / American Press)
Last Modified: Monday, July 30, 2012 2:18 PMFamily & Youth’s Leadership Center for Youth, designed for ages 12 through 18, provides guidance, leadership development, career exploration and civic engagement opportunities to foster young people’s success and involvement in the community.
High school students in the program are offered hands-on learning activities and tools to effectively engage them in the democratic process through civic activities. They are also exposed to the federal and state legislative processes.
The American Press discussed the program with three of this year’s participants — Amanda Hancock, 16, and Katie Janca, 17, of Barbe High School, and Jack Vanchiere, 16, of St. Louis Catholic High School — and Julio Galan, executive director of the Family and Youth Counseling Agency.
American Press: How did each one of you get involved in the program?
Jack Vanchiere: My dad has been working with Family and Youth Counseling for a few years now, and so one day I was up here with him and they mentioned the Youth Advisory Council, and so I joined. I really didn’t think about it.
Amanda Hancock: I actually heard about it through Katie.
Katie Janca: Yes sir. Last year we had a friend that did this, and he went through the whole program and then got picked to go to Washington (D.C.). Throughout that, I got to see all these opportunities that he had and the awesome trip he had to Washington, so I signed up.
American Press: What were you expectations going into the program?
Vanchiere: I really didn’t know much. I did some fair amount of volunteer work with some dinner at Mi Casa and some other activities. I really didn’t think much about the actual meetings, the extra-curricular activities for the group.
Hancock: I actually didn’t know about all the different branches. All I knew about were the career stuff. I signed up for the Youth Advisory Council because I kept hearing about all these different things, so I signed up for everything. I ended up getting a lot more involved than I thought I would. It was fun.
Janca: I think I went in thinking that it was going to be strict and structured and very prim and proper all the time, but throughout this whole year we’ve become close and comfortable with each other. And it’s a great program.
Vanchiere: I had those same worries. Probably I’d have to be on our tip-toes the whole time. We get away with a little more.
American Press: What have you learned from the experience this year?
Hancock: From the career exploration, it kind of guided me where I wanted to go. At the beginning I wanted to be a doctor. I then when I got to the hospital and it’s like, ‘‘That’s not what I really want to do.’’ And now I’m thinking more business since I went to D.C. And also getting more involved in the government and the community. It was a good experience for me. I learned a lot.
Janca: I learned to be more professional and learn to present myself to a group of people. And I learned that we do have a voice. It’s not that you have to go and be a politician. The way our country is set up, everyone can speak their voice and get something done.
Vanchiere: Like Katie said, it’s not as difficult as it seems to go and try to get something done. You don’t have to be something special to go and speak to your representative or your senator to try to get them to do something or push a topic to help your area out. That kind of made me feel a little better that your problems are not just your problems. You can help them become more of a community thing to help them become fixed.
American Press: What were your priority issues?
Vanchiere: We had four priority issues but we only discussed three while we were up there. Our first issue was ensuring a brighter future for today’s young people like ourselves.
Hancock: We had the RESTORE Act that was recently passed to bring in the fines from BP and we wanted to make sure our representatives oversaw where the money was going and to make sure that it go to a good cause that would benefit the gulf.
Janca: And our other one was protecting the vulnerable children, like children that have been abused, sexually, physically or neglected. There are centers like the Children’s Advocacy Center here that get their funds from an act that was passed in 1994 but that funding was actually zeroed out this year. So we wanted to bring to their attention that these kids need the money.
American Press: And you had to research all of this? What did you learn from researching these projects?
Janca: A lot of the statistics, like 90 percent of the child sex abuse cases, go unaccounted for. That was really scary. And people don’t realize the effect that has on a child’s life in the future.
Hancock: I actually hadn’t heard of the RESTORE Act. I didn’t even know about it. We did some research and found out that they have a plan to bring the money to places that wouldn’t really benefit or didn’t have anything to do with Gulf research or oil. That was good to learn.
American Press: Did you have a pretty good grip on the threat to Louisiana’s coast and wetlands?
Hancock: Yes sir.
American Press: What was your favorite part of this program?
Vanchiere: It’s nice to be able to represent our community. It’s nice to see Julio (Galan) crack a smile occasionally (laughter). With my dad being so involved with all the goings on around here, I was glad to be able to do something like him.
Hancock: I like the involvement. I did Student Council while I was at school and I thought I was really involved. Then doing this, it kind of blew all of that out of the water. It was a good learning experience in knowing how government works and comes together.
Janca: I think the same thing about just being involved. It was really cool to go up to Washington and see how our country started and the political everything was cool. And I also learned about myself that I like to speak to others and talk about issues.
American Press: Did you have a favorite experience about going to the state Legislature or going to Washington, D.C.?
Hancock: I liked talking to Congressman (Charles) Boustany (Jr.) the most. It seemed like he really cared the most out of all the congressmen. It was more of a relaxed setting. We were all in his office rather than in the hallway or a formal kind of set-up. He seemed like he really cared and wanted to know what we had to say.
Vanchiere: I enjoyed speaking to Congressman Boustany the most. He just had a way of making everyone feel very relaxed and he actually sat on his desk. It was kind of funny. I enjoyed talking with Senator (David) Vitter and Congressman (Jeff) Landry, but Congressman Landry made us sweat. He grilled us. That was tough and I felt very uncomfortable, but we were better for it. And I liked the fact that Senator Vitter brought his kids while we were speaking with him. He said, ‘‘Kids, listen. This is a good group that knows what they are talking about so learn from them.’’ It was a pretty big compliment on his part toward us.
Janca: I liked that when Landry was talking with us he didn’t really didn’t just shake our hand, give us a smile and walk away. He really challenged what we were saying. He seemed like he wanted to be more educated about the topics.
Julio Galan: I told them that every time when I go (to Washington, D.C.) I end up meeting with a staffer, not with a congressman, and usually I get five minutes. They got about 45 minutes.
Vanchiere: We had a lot of time.
American Press: How has this program changed you?
Vanchiere: It’s made me a little more ready to be active in certain groups. It makes me more involved. I’m not as hesitant to get into something that I might not know a lot about. It’s given me a little more confidence coming out of the group.
Hancock: I feel like it’s helped my speaking a lot, knowing how to present an issue in a professional way. So going and speaking to a congressman actually helped. You could see a change over the course of a week between the first meeting at the Alliance Center and by the end with Congressman Boustany we got better and had a better flow.
Janca: I think it definitely matured all of us and it made me just look at our country’s politics in a different way. You really can get involved and the opportunities are out there. You just have to put yourself out there.
American Press: Has this whole process affected your future plans for either education or in terms of a career?
Vanchiere: Not really. I had no clue what I wanted to do when I went in. It actually kind of confused me a little more probably, just because I never thought of a career in law or government or politics. It kind of opened up another train of thought. It’s not helping (laughter).
Hancock: It definitely changed my plans for a career path because like I said earlier I wanted to go into medicine and then in the middle of the year I thought, ‘‘Well, maybe I’ll just be a veterinarian’’ and now I think I want to be on the business side of things and go get my master’s. It will probably change again.
I had never thought of that before. I was always medicine all the way.
Janca: I think it has made me look more into like people had political science degrees or public policy degrees and it makes me kind of want to look up on that and see where it takes you in a career. A lot of the jobs seem very interesting and seem very involved and knowledgeable.
American Press: Were you kind of undecided?
Janca: I guess I thought I’d go to law school. That was always in the back of my mind, but it just sounded good. But a lot of the people we talked to had law degrees. And it made me realize that our (Louisiana’s) law system, we have Napoleonic Law, so it made me think I may want to get my degree out of state.
American Press: In pitching this program to someone else, a classmate or a friend at church or a younger sibling, what would you say as far as encouraging them to get involved?
Vanchiere: Well, first of all it’s a lot of fun, just overall. That’s the first thing that comes to my mind. I made two great new friends through this group. It helps your civic engagement and that’s what the group is mostly about — being involved in our community, doing volunteer and helping to do whatever we can and just being involved is the main thing. That’s what I take away from this and that’s just a lot of fun. Meeting new people, I like that.
Hancock: Even if they don’t want to go all the way to Washington, at least do the career exploration because they are not really a lot of opportunities to go to so many different varieties of businesses. You might have a connection with someone at a hospital that you can go shadow them for a day. This program actually brings you to almost every different field that you can think of so I would at least encourage them to do that.
Janca: I would probably tell them, especially teenagers our age, that maybe we sometimes feel like what we do doesn’t really matter and it will matter when you become an adult. This program has made he so that that’s not the case. We do matter and people do care what we have to say and that really feels good.
Galan: Just looking at one of the statements that they made which had to do with the RESTORE Act, a lot of people basically say, ‘‘you have to give us the money to restore our coast so we can bring the jobs back’’. So, that’s sort of a sound bite and people will say, ‘‘yeah, let’s do that’’. But there’s not a lot of research backing that position or statement or even suggestions that this money can come from here. What they did is they did research to say, ‘‘Here is the issue, there was a lot of damage to the coast and this is to be repaired or restored and here is why and the reasons why is because most of the seafood comes from the Gulf Coast.’’ And they listed a lot of reasons to restore the coast. And then at the end, they recommend that let’s make sure that there is oversight and let’s make sure young people participate, let’s make sure that this money brings money to create a research institution that will allow young people to learn about disaster recovery, restoration and preservation.
So, it’s no longer a sound bite. It is here is the issue, here is why and here is our recommendations.
I think at the end one of the congressman said, ‘‘Are you talking about a research program like the Hurricane Museum that is being proposed in Lake Charles?’’
And they said yes. So, they were able to see and put it together. And that’s the experience.
American Press: Did y’all go to the state Legislature as well?
American Press: What was that experience like?
Vanchiere: That was different. We didn’t do as much talking. We had a luncheon meeting, got to hear some people talk and we sat in on a session, or part of a session and watched the voting process and that was interesting and it’s hectic. It was crazy. But it was a fun trip. ...
Hancock: I agreed with Jack. It wasn’t what I expected it to be. It was much more laid back than I thought it would be. They were asking questions about sports and kind of joking around. But I liked it.
Janca: I felt like whenever we went to Washington, we were singled out. We felt very important from all the senators and congressmen. And when we were in the state Legislature, we weren’t as singled out. It was hectic. ... It was a good preview for Washington.
American Press: Annually, how many do you normally have in this group?
Galan: We have three civic engagement institutes. Each institute will have at least 25-plus students. Most of them will be juniors in high school and sophomores. The leadership development actually happens several times a year. We probably see about a thousand young people a year.
The group that goes to Washington is a very select group. The group that is selected to go to Baton Rouge is about 30 to 40 and it’s sponsored by the Southwest Louisiana Alliance. Out of that group of 40, we select seven or eight, depending on funding, (to go to Washington, D.C.). They prepare themselves. They spent about two months preparing, researching and crafting. I think that’s why they feel that they are given more attention because when they go there they understand the issues and they can talk about them. When we go to Baton Rouge, it’s 40 or so young people, so they are there to learn how to process and not necessarily to become an expert on an issue. That’s the subtle difference.
American Press: Do you think this experience will help you in you school work?
Hancock: I’m sure it will. Definitely giving a report, I will be able to present it more professionally and knowing how to talk.
American Press: Has it helped your research skills as well?
Hancock: Yes. It has better prepared for my senior year. ...
Galan: One of the participants from two years ago that continues to come as a mentor — and from this point forward, these guys are going to be mentors to the next group of participants, so that will continue — but this guy that went with us about two years ago came back from the trip to D.C. and qualified to run for School Board at the age of 18. I don’t know if you remember Devante Lewis. He says, ‘‘I lost the campaign but I got 14 percent of the vote and that’s not bad for an 18-year-old.’’ He’s actually now the president of the student council (Student Union Board) at McNeese State University as a sophomore. There are a lot of stories of kids.
There was another traveler that is now at LSU in political science. He changed his mind after the trip. He is now majoring in political science. He recently got a group of young people to do a video to educate people about the effects of cuts to higher education to the last legislative process. He sent me the video and said please take a look at it. Whether you agree with the issue or not or whether you agree with the recommendations or statements, the reality is that I was proud to see one of the guys just take a stand and do something to become a stronger voice. So that was well done. ...
I think our future is bright and that’s what I wish our media would convey more because what we hear about young people is that we are losing a generation and we are losing young kids and all I see is no, our kids are doing very well, they are very healthy and they are going to do well.
Family & Youth’s Leadership Center for Youth Position Paper
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PROTECTING OUR MOST VULNERABLE CHILDREN
In 1992, recognizing the vulnerability of and need for services for abused and neglected children; Congress passed the Victims of Child Abuse Act, and since 1994 has appropriated funding for the same. This funding provides for, among other things, CASA Volunteers who advocate in court for the best interests of abused and neglected children, and Children’s Advocacy Centers, where forensic interviews of children alleged to have been sexually and severely physically abused are performed. Since that time, the number of abused and neglected children, in Southwest Louisiana and nationally, has continued to increase. However, proposed budget for FY13 contained zero funding for these vital programs. While the Senate and House Appropriations Committees have since marked up $19 million and $18 million respectively for Children’s Advocacy Centers and $6 million and $4.5 million respectively for CASA, the process is far from over, and our concern remains. Even with the markup, the CASA appropriation is down significantly from $16 million in FY11 and the current $12 million in FY12.
The current picture…
n In the five parish area of SWLA, there are between 350 and 400 children in foster care at any given time.
n In 2011, the Children’s Advocacy Center in Lake Charles, LA, performed forensic interviews for 505 children alleged to have been sexually and severely physically abused.
n Since the Children’s Advocacy Center opened in 1996, supported by funding from the Victims of Child Abuse Act, forensic interviews have been performed for over 4,000 children alleged to have been sexually or severely physically abused.
n Studies and statistics show that without intervention, abused and neglected children are much more likely than other children to develop addictions, have health problems, become incarcerated, and become homeless. The outcomes are not good, and the costs of services for these problems far outweigh the cost of the interventions to prevent them.
As young people, our humble recommendations are …
• Continued vigilance to ensure that the markups by the Senate and House Appropriations Committees for FY13 and beyond are not reduced but increased.
• Continued awareness of the numbers and needs of abused and neglected children and the need for services for these children.
• Become a Champion for Vulnerable Children by holding your meetings at (and visiting) CASA and/or Children’s Advocacy Center to raise awareness about child abuse.
• Ongoing support for continued funding for the Victims of Child Abuse Act in FY14 and beyond.