West Virginia Executive Spring 2017 - Page 33

[ politics ] Photo by Chelsea Costello. Inspire West Virginia Empowering West Virginia’s Youth to be Tomorrow’s Leaders It’s no secret West Virginia is currently facing major issues. As the state con- fronts drug and obesity epidemics, a financial crisis, a lack of jobs and concurrent brain drain, West Virginians are worried about the future of the state. West Virginia’s youth, however, are em- bracing hope for the future through action. Young people in West Virginia have a deep desire to improve their communities and get involved in the political process, but in the past, many didn’t know how. Today, Inspire West Virginia, a nonparti- san, nonprofit program working with high school students to improve voter registration Photo by Kathryn Ryan. KATHRYN RYAN among youth, is providing them a means by which to create local change. Partici- pating teenagers, called Inspired Leaders, help register eligible students to vote and empower their peers to use their voices at the polls. Young West Virginians have the most to lose—or gain—from the policies that are enacted today. Empowering them to become politically active leaders gives West Virginia the potential to build a sus- tainable foundation for a brighter future. “Inspire gives my generation a chance to elevate our voices,” says Justice Hudson, an alumnus of Inspire West Virginia. “This is giving young people a chance to start dialogues in our communities on issues we care about.” Students who register and pledge to vote through Inspire West Virginia are more likely to show up at the polls. While the 2016 primary election’s state turnout rate for ages 18-20 was 35 percent overall, the turnout rate for those who registered or pledged to vote with Inspire West Virginia was 42 percent, meaning students who “It is because of the students’ passion and determination that West Virginia continues to lead this national movement of youth voter empowerment.” engaged with the program were 20 percent more likely to vote on Election Day. This year, the program is engaging with 35 high schools across 25 West Virginia counties and is on track to surpass last year’s success of 2,600 new youth voter registrations. According to Chelsea Costello, the Inspire U.S. national program manager, the success of the program comes from the state’s youth. “It is because of the students’ passion and determination that West Virginia continues to lead this national movement of youth voter empowerment.” Inspire West Virginia has built a close partnership with Secretary of State Mac Warner, who believes getting young people involved in the civic process influences youth to stay ExEdge in the state after graduat- The 26th ing from high school and Amendment, college. Inspire West Virginia which was helps promote the Jennings ratified in Randolph Award, which is 1971, changed the voting age presented by the Secretary in the U.S. of State’s Office to schools from 21 to 18. who register 100 percent of Source: www. eligible seniors to vote. The constitution program’s Inspired Leaders, center.org who typically play the lead role in achieving Jennings Randolph Award eligibility for their school, are recognized by the Secretary of State’s Office during the award presentation to the student body. This year, Warner launched a new ini- tiative to honor Inspire West Virginia’s Inspired Leaders. The Honorary Secre- tary of State program is an exclusive op- portunity that grants exemplary Inspired Leaders the chance to sit as an honorary secretary of state. For Brad Bordelon, a Nicholas County Inspired Leader who was recognized as an honorary secretary of state this year, civic engagement means “working to make a difference in the civic life of our commu- nities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference.” Thanks to Inspire West Virginia, the Mountain State’s youth are developing a commitment to civic responsibility that will pave the way to a brighter future for all West Virginians.  WWW.WVEXECUTIVE.COM S P R I N G 2 017 31