For about the past 30 years, the Oak Creek American Legion has sifted through hopeful letters of high school juniors wanting to attend Girls State and Boys State.
Cassandra Crawford, 17, of Oak Creek; Katie Schalnus, 17, of Yampa; and Benjamin Crawford, 17, of Oak Creek, are the lucky students chosen from Soroco High School to attend this year's conference. Cassandra and Benjamin are cousins.
The 58th annual Colorado Columbine Girls State and 56th annual Colorado Boys State are hosted at Colorado colleges and sponsored by the American Legion. The main objective of the conferences is to teach youths about U.S. government by letting them create a government during their five days at the event.
This year's Girls State will be held June 5 to 10 at Western State College in Gunnison. Boys State will be June 12 to 17 at the University of Southern Colorado in Pueblo.
"The program sounded interesting because of the small government you create, and I wanted to learn more since I feel like I am not very educated about our own government," Cassandra Crawford said.
Carol Burkholder is the secretary and chairwoman of Girls State for the American Legion Auxiliary Post No. 189 in Yampa. Her counterpart is Bruce Sigler, who is the chairman for Boys State and has been a member of the post for many years.
Burkholder and Sigler are very excited about the three people chosen for this year's event because they were the only three who applied from Soroco's junior class of 27 students.
"It's very hard to get students to commit in the summer because of family vacations and sports camps," Burkholder said, "But we couldn't have asked for better delegates to represent our community or the high school."
Girls State is a national event, and 2004-05 Girls State director Cindy Dreher said 250 Colorado female high school juniors will participate in this year's event. About 25,000 girls will participate nationwide. The goal of the program is to expose students to the ways of city, county, state and national politics through election and voting procedures. At the end of this year's Colorado Girls State, two elected senators will compete on the national level.
Benjamin Crawford is excited to attend Boys State because of its hands-on experience.
"I think it's a good opportunity to learn about politics and how our government is run," he said.
Katie Schalnus said students also will have an opportunity to share their experiences with the community and the American Legion when they return from the event.
"Because we're so small, if someone goes somewhere, everyone knows about it," Schalnus said.
Dreher said the most important part of Girls State is learning how to participate after the program in local government and making a difference.
"The girls learn they can make a positive difference, and it is empowering to be a part of the community," she said.
Sigler hopes the students will not only learn about the logistical aspects of running and being involved in a government, but also make lifelong friends.
"I've heard from past delegates that they're still running into people they met at Boys State. You make great connections," Sigler said.
Other benefits to the program include being among a highly selective group of peers and also being able to put the experience on a future college or job application.
Burkholder is glad that the girls will experience something new this summer.
"Not only is it important to learn the process of government, but I think it's more important to get outside of this small area and see what the rest of the world is like," she said.
Arlene Porteus, the vice president of the American Legion in Yampa, agrees that it is important for the teenagers to share what they've learned with the community.
"All the old people like to hear about the young people's special experiences, and all the delegates seem so quality this year," Porteus said.
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