The American Legion Greenlawn Post 1244 each year selects high school juniors to send to a weeklong summer camp called Boys and Girls State. The educational program’s instruction on government is regarded as one of the best for U.S. high school students.
Last week, the organization received a $5,000 grant from state Sen. Jim Gaughran’s (D-Northport) office and has become a significant source of funding that expects to help grow the local program.
“We’ve been receiving typically $50 and $100 from people to sponsor kids,” said Legionnaire Charlie Armstrong, who organizes the program for the Greenlawn post on a volunteer basis. It cost about $500 to send each student.
The post funded 22 kids last year, 20 boys and 2 girls from local high schools. They are currently in the process of talking with principals and guidance counselors at 10 to 12 local school districts and expect to identify candidates for the 2020 season in the upcoming months. The additional revenue means the post can likely fund more students to attend.
“The American Legion Greenlawn Post 1244 is committed to ensuring students are exposed to how government is supposed to function,” Gaughran said. “These are critical teachings which allow students real exposure to the fundamentals of government and encourage young adults to be active, engaged citizens. I am proud to provide funding to allow them to expand this great program and thank the Greenlawn American Legion for their unwavering commitment to creating meaningful opportunities for our youth.”
William Floyd student Damian O’Malley participated in the 2019 session, which he said taught him about leadership and the benefits of teamwork. He said it was by far one of the best experiences he’s ever had. He engaged in county, city and party caucuses, which, he said caused him to speak out for which position he wanted.
“I also got to step out of my comfort zone, when I stood in front of everyone in my county and ran for county judge,” he said. “During the week, I met so many people who I would have never gotten the chance to meet, had it not been for this experience.”
The program dates back to the 1930s, but the Greenlawn Post has been running its program since 2009. Each year more and more students from the area are participating, though more opportunities are available for Boys State than Girls State, which is organized through the American Legion Women’s Auxiliary.
“When we saw the positive effect this program had on the students we sent, it became our goal to give as many more young people as possible the opportunity to have this experience,” Armstrong said. “After all, they are the future of our country.”
The program aims to objectively expose students to the rights, privileges, duties and responsibilities of a franchised citizen and includes practical training with fictitious local city, county and state governments created by students who are elected and appointed to various offices. Some of the program’s more prominent graduates includes U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, astronaut Neil Armstrong and television reporter Jane Pauley. Locally New York State Supreme Court Justice Jerry Asher and Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) are graduates of the program. Former President Bill Clinton, who famously shook the hand of then President John F. Kennedy as a Boys State/Nation candidate, is memorialized in an iconic photo that reveals the aspiring glance of a future world leader.
In a telephone interview Asher said that the program for him was formidable and a very positive experience. Asher attended in 1958 and met two college friends during the training, one that became his college roommate and a lifelong friend.
“It was a very structured environment, a bit like the military,” he said. “We learned about local governments and the issues of the day and held elections for town, county and state governments and had time for sports competition and music.”
He said the lesson to be learned is: Be involved in your community and public service.
The funding will allow 11 Long Island high school students to attend the program. It is the first year Greenlawn is receiving money from the New York State Senate for the program.
Students interested in applying must be in their junior year of high school and should contact either their guidance counselor or Charlie Armstrong at 917-337-2234 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.