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By Ashley Hatch, CO

Michigan native Parker Bunton became involved in Youth in Government after his impressive and advanced academic skills convinced his social studies teacher that he would be the perfect fit for YIG. While Bunton had an extensive knowledge set and incredible speaking skills, he was uninterested in YIG. It just did not seem like his calling. Then, during an open house at school, his teacher informed his father of the program. After that, there was no question about it, Bunton’s dad decreed Bunton would be involved in the YIG program. Within the first day of being at Youth in Government, though, Bunton felt as though he was where he belonged and it definitely became a place he actually wanted to be.

He wants new delegates to know that they should never give up. He explains that during his first year, he brought a proposal that did not generate a lot of debate, therefore it did not make it past Second Committee. Bunton gave up on giving speeches and getting called on during debates. The next year, he came back more engaged than ever, and he regretted the moment he gave up the previous year.

Bunton wants to take many happy memories home from his last conference, so that when life gets hard he can look back on this amazing week and know it will make him smile.

Bunton is pursuing a business major in supply chain management. He is working on a congressional campaign currently and is not planning on pursuing politics, although it is always an option.

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By Ashley Hatch, CO

Presiding Officer Natasha Menon got her start in Youth and Government through speech and debate program at her school. She started YAG her sophomore year after hearing raves about the program from her adviser. Menon absolutely adores policy, so of course Youth and Government was the perfect fit for her.

For Menon, the best part of CONA is meeting all of the amazing people and forging lifelong friendships. She urges delegates to start conversations, sit at new table and even share an umbrella in the rain, because it can start a conversation. Menon said while she was a delegate, she always sat at a different table at lunch time and now keeps in contact with friends she has made over the years. As a PO, her goal is to help delegates have as amazing of a time as she had on the Mountain. For her the Blue Ridge Spirit is seeing delegates interact with each other and become friends with someone from a completely different state. The magic occurs when delegates are able to find common ground and later eat dinner, sit on the porch or do something together to make their friendship a lasting one, she said.
Menon is studying philosophy, politics and economics and the University of Pennsylvania. In the future Menon hopes to go to law school and become a lawyer. Later her dream is to run for public office.

Keegan Pohl

By Tommy Dannenfelser, VA

For more than 60 years, North Korea and the United States have had an intensely hostile relationship. Just this morning, North Korea directed a threat towards the United States in the form of a test missile launch. This is especially disturbing considering that today marks Independence Day for the United States. This is just one of many incidents caused by North Korea in its intensely hostile relationship with the United States. Since the mutual ceasefire in 1953, North Korea has isolated itself from the international community. The American response to this threat has always been an assertive military presence in the Korean Peninsula. Missouri CONA Delegate Keegan Pohl contends military strength has failed to achieve peace, and it is time to attempt diplomacy with North Korea.

Pohl presented this controversial approach to the U.S.-North Korea conflict in Proposal No. 501. Pohl says it is time for the conflict to be resolved through negotiations, rather than with military force. His proposal seeks that both countries agree to diminish their own nuclear arsenals. As Pohl pointed out, North Korea has as many as 21 nuclear warheads. The proposal went even further to eliminate the Demilitarized Zone, suggesting that this “tension zone” would be unnecessary with a more stable North Korea.

Pohl’s proposal became the subject of a passionate debate in First Committee on Monday. Michigan’s Grace McKnight argued that North Korea would not agree to such a truce. On the other hand, Skyler Lynch, also from Michigan, praised the proposal, saying, “Let’s extend the olive branch!” Relations with North Korea proved to be a controversial topic, as debate continued back and forth. While the proposal did not move onto Second Committee, North Korea continues to be the “most urgent and dangerous threat” to the United States, according to Secretary of Defense James Mattis. With one misstep, current tensions could erupt into a military conflict. And in the light of North Korea’s threats this morning, this long-lived hostility will continue between the North Korea and the United States.

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By Tommy Dannenfelser, VA, and Erin Henry, NY

 Holding a presiding officer position at the YMCA Conference of National Affairs is a huge honor. Andie Flanigan attended CONA twice before being chosen to serve as a presiding officer for the 50th conference. Along with several years of Youth and Government experience, she brings enthusiasm and joy to Black Mountain!

Flanigan began Youth and Government as a sophomore in high school. She originally attended meetings to support a family member, and those experiences inspired her to enter the world of Youth and Government. She attended her first state conference in her home state of Louisiana that year and received the Monice Oliphant Award for her representation of the first Y core values: respect. The following year, she was elected the lieutenant governor and won the premium delegate award.

Presently, Flanigan is a computer science major at Louisiana State University (Geaux Tigers!). She plans to use the skills she acquires in college to study election data, specifically polling and campaign statistics.

She attributes her current success to her experience in Youth and Government. Her passion for the conference is an inspiration to all the delegates.

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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.”

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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.

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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.