Fourteen young ladies who will be attending the 2011 Girls State program as chosen delegates gathered for an orientation meeting at Palmetto Bay’s American Legion Post 133 on Sunday, June 5. The post’s Women’s Auxiliary hosted the meeting and runs the local part of the program.
This year’s delegates, some from as far south as the Keys, are Jourdan Black, Lourdes Talavera, Valerie Gonzalez, Melissa Creary, Cydnee Ellison, Trinisha Jones, Bianca Gutierrez, Michelle Johnson, Shirene Tabarestani, Bridget Ramkissoon, Linda Davio, Victoria Valdes, Madison Dorman and Ashley Green. Most are juniors at area high schools.
Beverly Evans, who is the District 14 Girls State chair, admits that there is a lot of work involved.
“We’ve been going through this since January, with the girls sending their applications in,” Evans said. “It’s quite a process. Each unit goes to schools and asks for girls; then we interview them and pick our delegates and alternates.”
They will leave by bus from Post 133 at 3 a.m. on Friday, July 8, arriving in Tallahassee by early afternoon to settle into dormitories on the campus of Florida State University. During the weekend they will join girls from other areas in forming 25 “cities” of 25 girls each, run for city and state offices, attend “law school” and workshop sessions, and form two parties, the Nationalists and Federalists.
Monday is their day for primary elections, a pep rally and bill writing. Tuesday is for regular elections and committee hearings. On Wednesday they go to the Capitol for inauguration day, photos, a mock trial in the state Supreme Court and a mock disaster plan. That work continues on Thursday, followed by a spirit showcase. Friday also is at the Capitol and is capped by a dinner and awards night at FSU. On Saturday, July 16, at 8 a.m., they all board buses again for the return trip home.
Florida Girls State is a program dating back to 1947, designed to instill an understanding of the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship and public service. Each year 300 young women are given the opportunity to learn about America’s democratic form of government through firsthand experience. Some Girls State bills have been adopted by legislators and become state law.
The Women’s Auxiliaries of the 17 American Legion districts statewide fully fund the costs for the girls attending Girls State, paying for everything from transportation to food and laundry. The total cost for the yearly program is $130,000.
While on the trip the delegates have constant supervision and strict rules regarding cell phone use, curfew times, the clothing they can wear — especially while in the Capitol Chambers — and many other details.
Five scholarships will be given out by the end of the session, covering two years at Tallahassee Community College and two years at Florida State University. Additionally, the delegates will compete for a $25,000 national scholarship provided by Samsung.
Delegate Linda Davio, who attends Coral Reef High School and lives in Palmetto Bay, is excited about going to Tallahassee for the sessions.
“I’m honored to be chosen to be a part of this,” Davio said. “It’s a very prestigious event. I’d love to be a state representative or any office in government, so I’m hoping this will help me.”
Victoria Valdes, a St. Brendan’s High School student who lives in the Pinecrest area, shares her enthusiasm for the opportunity.
“I’m really interested in learning more about government on the state level, as I have already learned something about the national level,” Valdes said. “I’m definitely looking forward to this.”
Bianca Gutierrez, a resident of the Westchester area, also views it as a chance to learn and make a difference.
“I go to St. Brendan’s High School and they selected us,” Gutierrez said. “It’s very exciting to get involved in government and create something of your own. I want to contribute back to the community.”
Rose Nepa of the Girls State program gave the primary briefing to the delegates, going through the pre-trip paperwork with them. She is an enthusiastic supporter of Girls State.
“We look forward to a session that gives these girls an opportunity to experience government hands-on,” Nepa said. “There aren’t many other opportunities like this for just girls, without distractions, and I’m always very proud of them.”