For 34 years, the LWV of Collier County (FL)’s Know Your Government: Teen Citizenship Program has given young members of the community a close look at county government. The League won the Community Connection Award at the 2014 League of Women Voters National Convention for the program’s success and the years of community engagement that have resulted. Thirty-five students drawn from a wide applicant pool participate each year. During the program they visit all major county agencies and meet elected officials who explain government functions. Throughout the history of the program, the League has worked side-by-side with local non-profit 4-H, and has built partnerships at area public high schools, and the county government in order to educate and inspire students.
Despite county government’s local importance, many people know little about it or find it opaque and confusing. For League members, engaging students is the program’s highlight. Rebecca Newell and Joyce Fletcher emphasized the benefits to the students individually as well as the whole community. Students learn about agency roles and funding, developing a better understand of county government and becoming better informed citizens. They also learn about career opportunities within the government and the types of education these positions require, allowing them to plan a future in Collier County after graduation. Because participating students share what they learn with their parents, the League reaches entire families, providing valuable information and familiarizing them with the League’s voter education services.
The League has also deepened its links to the community through the partnerships that have developed as a part of Know Your Government. Making the program possible relies on help from social studies teachers, members of 4-H, government officials, and the school system’s representation. These partnerships make the program better and more effective, spread the cost, and can lead to future collaborations for the League. On their end, the local agencies benefit from the increased student interest—in particular, the animal shelter has seen increases in volunteers and adoptions. Teachers and schools also appreciate the opportunity to help students become better informed and more interested in their community.
To find reliable partners, Ms. Newell and Ms. Fletcher recommended highlighting the benefits of the program for each participating organization. Leagues can expand the scope and impact of education programs like Know Your Government by finding nonprofits and community groups that have related goals. This great program sends students home with a more comprehensive understanding of Collier County, from the health department to the sheriff’s office, and in some cases, even a new puppy.