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By: Julia Hartlep

Courtesy of Nancy Dennis

This conference rejuvenates and inspires us. It makes us hopeful for the future of our country. We learn more from the delegates of this conference than we ever impart to them.

Nancy Dennis

For many, CONA is a near-constant in their life. For others, it’s a near-constant in their children’s lives as well. Such is the case for the Dennis family.

Jimmy and Nancy met in high school, through the Alabama Youth Legislature. During college, they started to see each other. Nancy also started volunteering for the Alabama state program. Soon after, in 1980, Jimmy and Nancy married each other.

Come 1987, Nancy Dennis became an adviser for CONA’s Alabama delegation.

“I’ve continued doing that every summer since, except for the summer of 1996, which was the summer Amy was born. I also missed 1998 because of a special election in Alabama. I had work obligations that I couldn’t miss,” Nancy says.

Similar to his dedicated wife, Jimmy returned as an adviser as well, but instead in the 1990s. Their daughter, Amy, soon to be 23 years old, has been coming to CONA since she was 11 months old.

This program builds citizens.

Nancy Dennis

In fact, such is the Dennis legacy that the Alabama delegates, instead of calling them by their name, refer to Jimmy and Nancy as “Mama and Papa Dennis.”

“We are their parents on the mountain,” Nancy explains.

Currently, Jimmy serves in the bean room, counting ballots. Nancy has worked on the planning committee and as a media adviser. To add to her list of credentials, she also has experience as a newspaper editor and in public relations.

We love this conference and the people who are a part of it.

Nancy Dennis

Their legacy lives on through Amy, who does whatever she can to help out. This includes working in the snack shop, running proposals, and even counting ballots. She became a member of the media program during her high school years, and worked for the Montgomery YMCA for a summer.

The Dennis family plans to keep coming to CONA as long as they’re let in. “The family feeling extends beyond the Alabama delegation. We’ve made friends on this mountain from California, Arizona, Texas, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Minnesota and all the points in between who are forever friends,” Nancy says

This conference is our family vacation each year. It is woven into the fabric of our family. It is part of who we are.

Nancy Dennis

By: Leslie Martin

Photos by: Caroline Bell

Just stepping back and realizing that this is my experience and it doesn’t have to be the same thing as hers was really empowering.

Alison Walsh

Alison Walsh from the New Jersey Delegation is in a unique situation this year on the mountain. She experiencing the CONA spirit for the first time, but, unlike most first year delegates, Alison has been receiving advice since the day she was born from one of the six Presiding Officers: Maddi Walsh. Although there are challenges to being at CONA at the same time as your sibling, the two sisters have enjoyed the opportunity to experience the CONA love together. 

“She’s been just such a great role model… it has really helped my confidence” Alison said.

Alison stated how Maddi had really helped her prepare for CONA to become first year delegate. From writing a proposal, to understanding the traditions of the seersucker suit, Maddi was always able to offer an old book to reference or some sisterly advice. Alison expressed that Maddi’s expertise in all things CONA helped her to gain confidence in her skills by allowing her to know that she had an idea of what she was heading into. 

However, the siblings have had to overcome challenges such as establishing that they are two different people with two different minds. 

“There is a preconceived notion that we are setting out to do the same things,” Maddi stated.

Treated as one, and she stressed the importance of remembering to view delegates at the conference as individuals with differing mindsets. Furthermore, Alison has struggled with the high expectations of those around her, but she has grown and learned the importance of setting her own goals for her experience. Alison said, “Just stepping back and realizing that this is my experience and it doesn’t have to be the same thing as hers was really empowering.” 

By: Caroline Bell

Photos by: Caroline Bell

Last year on the mountain, the delegations, North Carolina and South Carolina, met in the Region Room to sign a treaty and become unified. Throughout General Assembly and Plenary the delegates left behind their titles of North Carolina and South Carolina and became “The Unified State of Carolina”. 

This year, at 8:30 Wednesday morning in the West Room, the delegations came together once more to unify the states. The treaty states, “There will be constant peace and firm and lasting unification between the delegations of North Carolina and South Carolina, from July 3rd through July 4th, 2019.” The treaty only lasts until the end of the conference- that way if North Carolina and South Carolina decided to continue the treaty signing in coming years they are able to do so. Furthermore, the treaty states that North and South Carolina “shall make it a common cause to aid each other mutually with their good offices and counsels.” Once they signed the treaty, the governor and speaker shook hands and went to their respective GA rooms. 

Pearce Lewis, the North Carolina 2020 Youth Governor, says, “It was an incredible experience to see two delegations one together in harmony. The state pride was amazing and I am proud to be part of The Unified State of Carolina!”

Patricio Ortiz, the South Carolina 2020 Youth Speaker, stated, “The experience of unifying two individual and unique delegations under the common cause of the Carolinas in truly remarkable and highlights the importance of collaboration at CONA.” 

Despite the wonderful unification process this morning and the friendships that have been developed, the awards committee stated that they wanted to make sure that the delegates are specifying their state. It was said in a group on GroupMe that “committees are having a difficult time when they gave random nicknames or unified state of Carolina.” Therefore, for the purpose of GA and Plenary, North Carolina and South Carolina must remain individualized. However that doesn’t stop the unification of the delegations in our hearts. North Carolina and South Carolina will always have an undeniable bond when on and off the mountain. 

By: Marley Fishburn

No one succeeds alone. Whether it is progress towards equal rights or writing a successful proposal, unwavering support is crucial. Nations across the globe have taken momentous strides in the name of equality in recent years which could not have been accomplished without support from all walks of life. CONA itself is becoming more inclusive as well, with the help of open minded individuals and the courage and color of the LGBT+ community. Allies can come in all shapes and sizes- all colors and creeds-and can contribute in a myriad of ways, so here is a how to guide to being a supportive, empathetic ally according to some delegates here on the mountain:

  1. LISTEN- “I think that being an ally is very important, I think the most important part is listening and helping other people”- Ciel LaZar (NM)
  2.  STAND UP- “I think the most important part is listening and helping other people, standing up for people even though it might be very intimidating especially if it’s in a bullying situation or a situation where people are being put down.” – Jacey Matthews (NJ)
  3. BE LOUD- Actions speak words and in dire times, “silent allies aren’t real allies,” says Sarah Issacson of (MO)

By: Caroline Bell

Photo by: Julia Hartlep

Being a first year delegate can be daunting because of the excitement surrounding the conference. Returning delegates know the ways of the mountain, but when you’re coming for the first time, it’s easy to get lost and confused. Parliamentary procedure can be terrifying for first years, and sometimes even returning delegates! Having to present a proposal in committees is extremely intimidating whether you’re in first committee or plenary.

Eli Schulz, a first year delegate from Arkansas, says, “I expected to get completely destroyed in debate.” However, when you debate and listen to numerous proposals, one can begin to understand and appreciate the important impact this conference has.

Brandon Witbrod, a returning delegate from Wyoming, explained that he hopes “people behind [me] continue to maintain the conversations here kindly and respectfully despite polarizing views.” 

Other than committees and debating, first year delegates have expectations about the living arrangements and the dress code. Daniella Zoeller, a new delegate from Wyoming, is spending her nights on the mountain staying in Eureka Hall’s rooms. She said, “I expected to have my own shower!” Returning delegates know the let down of that expectation all too well. As far as dress code goes, the assumption is all professional all the time! Cooper Young, a first year delegate from Arkansas, said, “one thing I expected was there to be a lot more suits involved and a lot less casual dress, and one thing I didn’t expect was how big pins were!” 

CONA is a special place where you can have a heated debate with another delegate but then go grab a Eureka treat with them after committees. Whether you’re a first year delegate or a fourth year, the mountain always seems to find a way into your heart. 

By: Kiernan Green

Photos by: Julia Hartlep


For some, the trek from their housing space to Eureka, the Blue Ridge Center (BRC), or wherever their committees are being held is a mere stroll. However, for some others the trek is a grueling journey as they combat the sun’s rays, the suffocating hug of heat, and the potential threat of a bear lurking just off the beaten path.

The farthest housing space from the general mix-of-things is named McCarty Lodge. It lays approximately 12 minutes up from the BRC, though it takes approximately 8 minutes to walk down to the BRC from McCarty. Cameron Mears, a Virginia delegate staying in McCarty this year, describes his feelings towards the walk saying blatantly, “The hike absolutely sucks. Of course, we’re in full business attire, and it’s hot, and it’s such an incline.” 

The hike absolutely sucks.

Cameron Mears

Last year, along with this year, the Virginia delegation has been housed within that lodge. A motto of the Virginia delegation, as spoken by Sharon Davies, is: “If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, don’t bother.” With these words echoing within the delegates’ heads, every morning they prepare to leave the lodge earlier than most other delegations to make up for the time lost to the expedition.

David McCurdy, another Virginian housed at McCarty, says, “You know, it’s pretty easy to walk from Barnhardt or Asheville to Eureka,” and tells other delegates to “value that.” Every night after the Evening Delegate Assembly & Devotion the Virginia delegation ventures further back up the mountain on a path shrouded with flora and darkness, hiding any potential bears, which has made the majority of the delegates uneasy at least once thus far.

Despite the potential damper that this experience could cause, the Virginia delegation has continued pushing forward with enthusiasm, bringing passion to their committees and the newsroom. Plus, the McCarty experience isn’t all negative either. Since McCarty Lodge is more secluded than other halls, cabins, and lodges, any trace of unnecessary traffic is eliminated. The delegates have said that the trip can get lonely easily, so the delegation usually travels as a group to and from the rest of civilization. This time can allow for more conversation within the delegation, which in turn leads to more bonding opportunities which can help create a more unified delegation as a whole. Also multiple delegates have commented that they’ll have calves for days, along with an obviously-sharpened mind, after this conference. Akin to life, McCarty has got its cons and its pros, but ultimately it’s a part of the lovely and life-changing experience known affectionately as CONA. Irene, yet another Virginia delegate, concluded her interview balancing the good and the bad of McCarty life: “It’s pretty tough, you’re walking uphill, in heels, it’s hot, you’re tired, and you’re just out of breath. But then you get up here and you just get to enjoy the view, chill on a rocker for a little bit. It’s tough but it’s not that rough.”

McCarty Lodge

By: Kei Bayramshian

Photos by: Kei Bayramshian and Delaney Donnohue

LGBTQ+ delegates

The 28th of June marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, considered by many to be the catalyst for the LGBTQ+ movement we are familiar with today. As Pride Month comes to a close, the community reflects on the role pride plays in their everyday lives and in their experiences here at CONA. Both on and off the mountain, June served as an international celebration of pride in every sense of the word.

[Pride] is acceptance, and it’s toleration and happiness.

Jessika Crockett-Murphy

A significant amount of our very own delegates identify with the LGBTQ+ community, as they embrace aspects of themselves like gender and sexuality in coming to terms with their identities. From the LGBTQ+ GroupMe chat to a brief community meetup in celebration of pride, the welcoming atmosphere of the conference is tangible on Black Mountain. Jessika Crockett-Murphy of the Massachusetts delegation finds comfort in the fellowship present among our queer CONA students, saying that pride in any way, shape, or form “is acceptance, and it’s toleration and happiness.” She believes that to accept one’s identity is to look at the cards you have been played and say, “Alright, I have this and I’m going to work with it and I’m okay with that, in forming a community with pride.” The mountain is littered with delegates displaying this pride through pins, T-shirts, flags, and general kindness.

On paper, pride is evident in the legislation being proposed itself. In Committee H, twelve bills were centered around the rights of members of the LGBTQ+ community, discussing topics like blood donation, medical transition, and military involvement. Delegates from all across the country are fighting for gay rights- delegates like Garrett Schneider of the Tennessee delegation. With regard to issues pertaining to civil rights and social justice, the government’s role in queer legislation becomes rather fuzzy. Schneider feels that “it’s the government’s job to protect anyone no matter their race, sexuality, religion, or anything- when the rights of people are being trampled on, someone has to step in and say, ‘Wait, these are people too.’”

The YMCA is considered to be one of the pre-eminent faith-based organizations, traditionally characterized by Christianity or religion in general. In knowingly entering such a God-oriented climate, LGBTQ+ delegates may feel intimidated or initially ostracized if not received well right off the bat. All delegates are embraced and welcome at CONA, and the Blue Ridge Journal interviewed former CONA director and devotion speaker Bob McGaughey regarding the relationship between pride and conference. With regard to queer individuals and their presence and representation on the mountain, McGaughey explained, “I think it’s a natural occurrence in life- that’s where we are, that’s what we are. God loves all people, and we don’t wear labels to be loved by him.” Every delegate is welcome to express them self freely at CONA without fear of being discriminated against- an aspect of the conference that is consistently unique to the CONA experience and the people we have surrounded ourselves with.

With the upcoming presidential election already underway- and with an openly gay top democratic presidential candidate- LGBTQ+ issues are becoming increasingly more relevant across the country, and will remain relevant at CONA for years to come.