By Jackson Aldridge, VA and Ashley Hatch, CO

It all began with an idea.

To commence the 50th CONA conference, a special speaker, Michal Hart Hillman, welcomed the delegates at the opening ceremony. Hilman is responsible for originating the idea of a National Youth and Government conference.

In her speech, Hillman told the story of how the conference came to be. Originating with an idea which she brought to her Youth and Government state conference in Alabama, CONA grew from Hillman’s suggestion of creating a national Youth and Government conference. Her plan was met with support from prominent leaders of the YMCA and her dream became a reality in 1968 when the first CONA took place in Stone Mountain, Georgia. At the first conference there were only 25 proposals, but one of which held great significance — Hillman brought a proposal to establish a National Youth Conference on National Affairs, reoccuring each year.

CONA was founded on the principles of youth development, social responsibility, honesty, and respect, and while the conference has grown, the principles remain a significant part of what CONA is today.

The story of how CONA began highlights how important an idea can be once it begins to unfold.  Hillman encourages delegates to share, to give their passion, and to build community by harnessing the power of all — all people, all delegates, all ideas. She believes that leaders follow both their hearts and their heads and they build their power by building together and not taking power over one another. Michal Hillman hopes that the “delegates will continue to be active citizens in society – wherever they live and work. Our country and our world deserves informed citizens and dedicated public servants.”