Archives for category: CONA


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.”


By Ashley Hatch, CO Staff Writer

John Ball, one of the six CONA presiding officers, has an extensive resume that includes attending Harvard University. He grew up in central Ohio near Columbus. There, he was heavily involved in swimming programs. He heard about the Youth and Government program through his school, but had no idea that YAG and the YMCA were connected. He soon realized that both programs embrace the YMCA’s mission for education and healthy living.

Ball loves being able to engage in debate. Being a political minority at his school in 2008, he was excited to start debating with people at Youth and Government. For new delegates, Ball tells the story of how he combined proposals with someone he deemed a genius, former PO Chantel Williams (2015). He was super nervous, and he had no idea if he should even talk. He wants delegates to know that this experience helped him find his strengths and provided him with a friendship.

This week on the Mountain, Ball wants to feel the Blue Ridge Spirit by interacting with the delegates, learning about their passions and taking home some of their stories.

Ball is not completely sure what his future holds. He would like to spend a few years after college writing, hoping to someday become a professional writer. Law school may be in Ball’s future, but he would really like to work for a nonprofit in D.C. for a while (possibly the National Alliance on Mental Illness or the American Civil Liberties Union). He wants to work in something he is passionate about and encourages others to do the same.


By Ashley Hatch, CO Staff Writer

Smiling faces filled with Blue Ridge Spirit greeted new and returning delegates as they anxiously awaited the opening ceremony of the 50th YMCA Conference on National Affairs.

CONA Executive Director Sam Adams spoke to delegates about commitment. His speech was about different reasons we delegates may be here and the different things we may want to commit to. He leaves us with a simple message: “I hope you can find something to commit to, something positive, something lasting, and something that will benefit others.

Furthermore, the CEO and President of CONA Melissa Logan spoke about the history of the Blue Ridge Assembly. She talks about Dr. Willis D. Weatherford Sr. saying “he wanted to find a place where people could get away.” Finding Blue Ridge was a great victory for him and because of him, we are able to make countless memories on the Eureka Hall steps. As you venture through the week, make sure to make commitments to yourself, and to also have many joyous “Eureka!” moments.


By Caroline Bell, NC Staff Writer

For those who chose to participate, the first full day on the mountain began with an optional worship service.

The opening prayer, led by Addison Smith, Alabama, was followed by the song, “Ever Be,” to remind everyone that God has taken care of us and will continue to take care of us. Noelle Michell, New York; JeanMarie Kmetz, Texas; as well as Olivia Pride and Hayden Sledge of Alabama, sang “Ever Be” and another song later in the worship.

Tennessee’s Meg Perry read Galatians 6:1-10, which urges us to “be kind to everyone you meet, regardless of background.” Shortly after the reading, Elizabeth Gilbert, New York, read a quote by Martin Luther King Jr., discussing how to use nonviolence for peace, and Andrew Czazsty of Mississippi read the poem “Precious, Present,” which urges us to enjoy the little moments and celebrate the now.

Alabama’s Olivia Westfall, led the morning devotion on tolerance. She read a few quotes from the Bible, the Quran, and Ghandi. “This program teaches us to  be world changers … To make change, we must love thy neighbors. It is our differences that make us unique, and it is our differences that bring us together,” she said.

Another song,  “Holy Spirit,” taught that the presence of God is everywhere. Before closing prayer and dismissal, the floor was opened for delegates to share what was on their hearts.

Optional morning devotions in the Blue Ridge Center lobby offer a spiritual outlet for the remainder of the week. Those are led by former CONA Director Bob McGaughey.




By Amy Dennis, 2017 Media Director

In a few short weeks hundreds of delegates will gather in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to participate in the 50th YMCA Youth Conference on National Affairs. This monumental conference has seen its fair share of delegates, and soon the 2017 group will be added to the list of individuals whose lives have been enriched by the open discourse and lifelong friendships made. Following the conclusion of the conference there will be a 50th Anniversary Celebration where alumni of the conference will return to participate in panel discussions and have the opportunity to see old friends and reminisce about their time at the conference. Keep up with all things CONA by following our media team:

The Blue Ridge Journal Facebook Page:

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram: @BRJCONA

Check out our YouTube channel during the conference for daily Ridge Reports from our Blue Ridge Journal Staff:

Check back here for more articles and updates as the week progresses!

Jack M. Densmore, TX
Staff Writer

In 1968, 62 delegates came together in Stone Mountain, Ga., to celebrate the first YMCA Youth Conference on National Affairs (CONA). They traveled from eight different states. In 2016, 637 delegates from 39 states, the District of Columbia and the Model United Nations have come together in Black Mountain, N.C., to celebrate 49 years of intense debate, long-lasting friendships and a feverish desire to better our country and our world.

Since CONA’s founding, there has been an effort to involve all 50 states, an aspiration being emphasized as the 50th anniversary approaches. Progress continues as Nebraska joins the conference for the first time, and North Dakota returns for the first time since 1981. Even states without Youth and Government (or Youth in Government) programs can participate. This year those states are Alaska, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Rhode Island and Utah. Collectively, they are known as the Ambassador delegation.

Since CONA moved to the Blue Ridge Assembly in 1972, delegates look forward to certain traditions every year. You already experienced the reception, where strangers become acquainted, old friends reunite and everyone is encouraged to trade state pins and shirts. Delegates can also indulge in tasty sweets during their down time, such as the chilly and creamy Eureka Treat or a cold Cheerwine, a North Carolina native beverage. Each morning delegates wake up to the sound of “Carolina in the Morning.” As the sun rises over the Blue Ridge Mountains, some sit in the green rocking chairs on the Eureka Hall porch to take in the magnificent view.

The most important, yet intangible, tradition you’ll encounter is spirit. You’ll discover the Blue Ridge Spirit for yourself, through thoughts, words and actions, all of which should spring forth naturally from the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the inspiring people around you. Spirit fingers substitute for clapping. Delegations battle each other with state pride through chants at breakfast, lunch and dinner. While displaying regional pride, delegates seek ways to improve our nation as a united whole.

Whatever state or delegation you represent, make your own mark and make your own traditions. Today’s the day you become a part of CONA history.

An abbreviated version of this article appears in the first July 3 edition of The Blue Ridge Journal.

By Sareena Fayaz, PA

In the ‘Trap’ committee, otherwise known as first Committee I, “We put the I in sin,” said Nathaniel Pettit, a delegate from Pennsylvania.

Besides the jokes in Committee I, committee chair Kate Hannick from Missouri “wrote us really nice notes” and “managed to promote good debates within the boundaries of good parliamentary debate,” said Pettit.

Spending all day in committee cannot only lead to interesting debates but also interesting bonds and connections between delegates.

Washington Youth Gov. Jade Chowning, along with other delegates, communicated with some members in her first committee on Facebook before CONA started, but after debating, it “felt awesome to know I made friends that I could not only connect with but also discuss proposals with,” she said.

Chowning also added that as a first-year delegate coming into CONA, she wasn’t too comfortable in her parliamentary procedure skills but “my chairs explained everything to me,” she said.

“It was a positive experience, I had great chairs,” said Chowning, whose combined chemical regulation and safety proposal made it to Third Committee.

Lainey Newman, second-year delegate from Pennsylvania, loved how in her Second Committee, Committee V , the “proposals were enthralling, they covered a variety of topics,” she said.

“I kid you not, I was impressed by every single speaker in some form,” Newman said.

In Kentucky, first-year delegate Nicole Fielder is passionately involved in the Pritchard Committee Student Voice Team (PCSVT), a Kentucky initiative, which raises the level of students’ voices in that state’s education policies.

In first committee, Fielder met Brady Grotton, a delegate from Maine, who to her surprise was familiar with the PCSVT. “Since then we’ve talked about our proposals and gotten to know each other,” she said. “It’s worlds colliding. It’s mindblowing.”

In Fielder’s Second Committee, Committee VI,  Raghavendra Pai, a committee chair from Oklahoma, would do a popular dance called the ‘whip’ on the number five when counting down on the proposal rating scale.

The other committee chair, Helen Streff of Minnesota, lead countdowns in different languages, from Japanese to Dothraki from Game of Thrones. Sometimes delegates who spoke the languages would be asked to lead the countdown or the language would be looked up.

“My favorite [moment in committee] was at the very end Streff said, ‘Since we’re finishing, we’re gonna do it in Finnish,’” Fielder said.