Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States, once said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”
For 41 years, Bruce Beatty, a Senior Director for CSL Behring’s Information & Technology Department, has been doing his part through the YMCA’s Youth & Government program. The program teaches middle and high school students about government and encourages them to participate in it. Beatty spent three years in the program as a student and 38 more years as an adult volunteer. Today, he’s the volunteer treasurer for the program in Pennsylvania, where CSL Behring is based.
“Civics education is a topic that has been reduced in school curriculums, and the program helps to fill this vital gap, as its motto is ‘Democracy Must Be Learned by Each Generation,’” he said.
Beatty first became involved in the program while he was a high school student at Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School, which is close to CSL Behring’s manufacturing facility in Kankakee, Illinois. He was a member of the program’s Press Corps, as a photographer.
“The adult advisors allowed me to bring my darkroom equipment with me, and to develop and print black and white photographs on site at the program hotel. Their trust and encouragement was a great boost for a shy teenager,” Beatty recalls. “The overall experience impacted me such that I wanted to do what I could to make the program available for other students.”
The hands-on program invites students to operate a model state government, which is more effective than just reading about how government works in a book, Beatty said. As a longtime volunteer, it’s satisfying to watch students embracing the principles of American democracy, he said. Beatty also appreciates seeing students grow their confidence, as he did when he participated in the program. He supports more than 700 students each year or about 10,000 during his tenure as a volunteer. The program makes a measurable impact.
“Research has found that participants in the Youth & Government program are more engaged in civic activities, as voters, and even as candidates for public office,” Beatty said.
In 2014, the program made legislative impact when Pennsylvania’s legislature passed an anti-stalking law that grew out of a bill created by the Youth & Government program.
After a tumultuous presidential election and violence at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, organizers of the Youth & Government program say their mission has never been more essential. Founded in 1936, the Youth & Government program aims to show students the value of “good-spirited debate, servant leadership and the power of public policy to improve lives,” Kevin Washington, President and CEO of YMCA of the USA, in a statement released following the disturbance and chaos in the halls of Congress.
“Young people are the primary source of my hope for the future, and time spent with our Youth & Government participants always confirms the wisdom of my optimism,” Washington said.