Recently while visiting Washington D.C. for the NYEC annual forum, ACYR staff, Sharlet Barnett, CEO, Anel Mercado, Director of Programs and Felix Moran, former opportunity youth and current ACYR Youth Engagement Specialist, had the opportunity to visit with the staff of two Arizona elected officials; Senator Jeff Flake and Congressman Ruben Gallego. While these were very distinctly different visits, there was an underlying theme, which was how ACYR could collaborate with the officials to provide information that would help them make decisions on behalf of our youth.
While ACYR has a long history serving youth and advocating for them at a local level, in recent years, we have moved away from regularly advocating at the district and state level which we are now on an concerted effort to change. To help us prepare for our visit with the staff of our elected officials, we utilized the resources offered to us by the staff at NYEC. The District Office Toolkit was helpful when beginning our preparation before heading to D.C. and while on the Hill we were able to count on the support of Kristal Romero , NYEC’s Membership Engagement and Outreach Coordinator, with setting up the visits as well as additional preparation and support on the day of our visits.
In Senator Flake’s office, there was a focus on the issues we saw in our State that affected youth from a national level. They specifically wanted to know if there were concerns with implementation of new legislation and if there needs to be more oversight to ensure implementation was successful and occurring as intended.
In Representative Gallego’s office there was a desire to collaborate to bring youth and provider voices to the table. They were interested in learning about DACA and immigration issues, as well as opportunities to be more engaged with young people and hear directly from them.
ACYR plans to continue to advocate with our officials in order to improve the lives of young people in Arizona. We know that policy created in a vacuum without youth voice will only perpetuate the issues faced by the young people we serve. Our biggest take away from our experience is that we are not intruding, overstepping, or harassing our officials by asking to meet with them to discuss important issues. In order to make these quality meetings that provide assistance to our officials, we must be prepared and learn to listen as well as speak, if we want to be taken seriously and be an asset.
We also learned that we cannot have expected that one visit will have an enormous impact. We must be strategic and plan to follow up on our meetings with invitations for our officials to get more involved by touring our organization and allowing them to interact meaningfully with our youth. Throughout the next year ACYR intends to invite officials to many of our special events, as well as to schedule follow up visits with staff at the local offices, where we can be more active on a regular basis.