A week that shapes a lifetime

Rose Hawkins,


Independent News

The Westville American Legion sponsors both boys and girls each year to attend Illinois Boys State and Illinois Girls State. This year three boys and two girls attended. The programs for each gender are dedicated to provide training in city, county and state governments; the importance of voting and getting involved in your community, state, and nation; to point out the benefits of education; building self-confidence and knowledge to go forward in their adult lives and not be afraid to go for their dreams. 

The Westville Legion makes sure that the $250 cost of attending is completely covered and there is no expense for the boys and girls through donations by area businesses and individuals. The Legion distributes applications, the students apply and the Legion chooses from the applications and an individual interview with each applicant who to send.  After they have attended these ‘camps’, they then attend an American Legion meeting to voice their gratefulness and relate what they gained from this experience. 

A week that shapes a lifetime for both boys and girls, also provides them with information about our government, patriotism, and how to move forward as young adults.

“It was eye-opening,” Brayden Chesrown began excitedly. “Before I went I was looking forward to it, but also had some apprehension. But as soon as I met my roommate I felt comfortable.” 

Two kids are housed together in one room. Of the kids from all over the state, the organizers make sure that the roommates are never from the same town, community, or even from neighboring towns or the same county. They want the 500 attendees to experience situations where they have to meet new people from different backgrounds - city/town, country/city, different races and ethnicity.

Chesrown continued, “The other boys I met were a lot the same, but also a lot different. It was easy to make friends. Then you could find guys, who had only known each other a day or so, staying up until 2 - 3 am just to help each other finish a project or write a speech.” 

Madison Semersheim wants to talk to the juniors in Westville High School to encourage them to go out for Girls State this coming year. 

“The people there make you feel that everyone is on the same level. My favorite part of the entire week was people,” she said. “The food was not good, but I liked the rest of it. I learned about the state government, we met some of the Senators and Representatives and got to talk to them. That was another thing for me, I learned to speak up. I ran for the office of Central Committeeman. We had to have a platform, mine was animal shelters and service dogs, and how those facilities are over-crowded. I didn't win, but it was a great experience, ” said said.

“For $5 I bought a bracelet to honor the military. You can choose what the honor is for - a fallen hero, prisoner of war, etc, and it comes with someone's name on it. That makes it personal when you can think about that person as an individual, said Semersheim.

Dakota Miles said, “I was nervous to go. Very quickly, though, I became best friends with several guys. Friendships that I hope to keep for the rest of my life.”

At the Boys and Girls State, they are placed in fictitious towns and fictitious counties. Elections are held for offices on all levels - towns, counties and state. The candidates put their names out for offices or can be nominated by another participant. Platforms are set up, they chose their election committees, write and make speeches, have debates; just like regular elections, and hold the elections. The winner of the elections then get to learn about Parliamentary Procedure by conducting meetings, making decisions, passing laws and such.

“We learned how the Judicial and Executive parts of the government work and how they fit together,” Miles said. “I ran for a county office, but didn't win. But that's okay.”

“The entire week was all about self-confidence. How to carry yourself, how to shake hands and how to talk to other business persons. I think I'm a different person now than I was before I went to Boys State,” said Miles.

“I'm a shy person,” said Santasia Elliott. “But I enjoyed the experience and have learned to give my opinion and share my thoughts easily. Before, I did have opinions, but I didn't think my opinion counted. This week made me feel that all of us were equal. I learned, too that I do not want to be a politician or run for public office. I can for school superintendent, but even in the fictitious level, it was too intense.”

Elliott continued, “We did have a lot more support from all of the other girls. That was great. We had to wear a dress to dinner every evening, and a fancy dress when we had a banquet. They do tell us before hand to bring those kinds of clothing. Our regular clothing was what they called 'business casual' - slacks and a blouse,” said said. 

“It was a great week! I am going to encourage other kids to go out for it, too”

They all agree, it was a “Week that Shapes a Lifetime.”


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