IMG_6302Throughout this legislative session we have celebrated many champions—legislators for sponsoring bills, Blueprint partners for spreading the word about kids’ issues, advocates for calling their elected officials on behalf of kids, and more—but another group of champions deserves our applause: the kids themselves.

Young leaders have been vital throughout the legislative session in initiating legislation, communicating with decision-makers, and rallying for results. You will hear from the youth themselves in blogs in the coming weeks, but for now, here are some highlights of youth leadership during the 2017 General Assembly:

IMG_6303Karena Cash, a high school student and member of Inspire KY, developed a bill for her senior project to provide educational stability for kids in the foster care system after tutoring a younger student who had moved foster homes many times. Karena recruited the support of Cabinet for Health and Family Services leadership and the support of Senator Dan Seum, who ultimately sponsored SB 190. While the bill did not make it into law, it did pass the Senate, and we look forward to Senator Seum filing it again in 2018 with some tweaks to make the bill even stronger. Karena saw a need for kids in her community and took action to improve the systems that serve those kids. Read more about Karena’s story here.

IMG_6237The First Lady’s Youth Leadership Council, a statewide council led by youth committed to changing policies and practices related to the child welfare system, had a luncheon with legislators and Administration officials. During that luncheon they shared their personal stories, and the stories of other kids in their communities, so that decision-makers could hear how changes in the system could better serve kids.

Speakers like Tessa Bowling galvanized advocates and elected officials into action. Tessa, a high school student living in a shelter and a member of the First Lady’s Youth Leadership Council, shared her story during the Children’s Advocacy Day rally and called on all of us to speak up for Kentucky kids, and other young people testified during legislative committee hearings so that legislators could hear how policies directly affect kids.

IMG_6285Youth from Promising Appalachian Leaders in Service (PALS) served as ambassadors to the Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children, advocated on social media, mentored other youth in their schools to become advocates, and assisted attendees of Children’s Advocacy Day with social media and advocacy tips. These young leaders, coordinated by Berea Partners in Education GEAR UP, represent schools from 26 counties in Eastern Kentucky.

The list of young change agents could go on and on. Amidst all our celebration of the advocacy for kids, we must honor the advocacy by kids. Ensuring kids are safe, healthy, and secure is an adult responsibility, but to all of the kids who have tackled the task of stepping up for other young people in their communities: thank you.