|By Lori Szepelak|
HOLYOKE A national Girls Inc. nonpartisan, nationwide initiative to encourage girls to become involved in the political process played out on the afternoon of Oct. 22 as local ballots were cast for the presidential candidates.
Girls Inc. of Holyoke has been participating in the Girls Inc. She Votes initiative that focuses on involving girls in the political process and encouraging them to see themselves as leaders, according to Janna Chapdelaine, director of development and public relations, who spoke with Reminder Publications.
"Learning about democracy and our voting system gives young women the knowledge and power to vote when they can in the future," Chapdelaine said. "They need to know each and every one of their voices matters."
Chapdelaine noted that the local She Votes program has promoted civic engagement in girls and has provided a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to run for political office and serve as an elected official. Girls have been participating in activities that have introduced them to voting, public speaking, fund-raising and campaign advertising.
"The idea is to give girls the practice to vote now and teach them about researching candidates and learning about registration so they feel prepared to vote when they turn 18," Chapdelaine added.
Participants in the She Votes program include Ashley Oquando, Misty Ortega, Kiara Ivess Trujillo, Deyanira Trujillo, Analiz Garcia, Barbara Alamo, Alisha Smith and Aida Ortega.
Kiara Ivess Trujillo was among the girls eager to voice her opinion on the national initiative and on the importance of voting.
"People have their own opinions," she said. "If you get upset about something, but you don't vote, you have no right to be upset. If you do vote, you have a chance to get what you want."
Analiz Garcia echoed those sentiments.
"We need to hear and see what people think," Garcia said. "We need their opinions. Everyone should have a part in making a decision. Teenagers should be able to vote along with adults because we live in the United States too."
All of the girls had strong opinions about the importance of being an informed voter. While Ashley Oquando noted the need "to see what other people think and see who they think is the best for the world," Aida Ortega added that "Everyone should vote so we can choose someone who can best run our country."
While most of the girls declined to say who they voted for in the mock presidential election, Analiz Garcia and Misty Ortega didn't hesitate. Their candidate of choice is Barack Obama.
"He makes sense and he wants to make a change in the world," Garcia said, adding, "I agree with him about the MCAS [Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System]."
"I like his ideas," Ortega said. "McCain says he'll do something, but doesn't explain it. Obama explains his ideas and they are better ideas."
Whatever the eventual outcome on Nov. 4, all of the girls agreed that the program has been beneficial and has opened their eyes to the political process. Perhaps Barbara Alamo said it best when asked why it is important to register and vote.
"So people can have a better world," she said.
Deyanira Trujillo followed up with "Everyone should vote so the right president is chosen."
Girls Inc. launched She Votes during the 2004 presidential elections, when more than 2,200 local Girls Inc. girls across the U.S. participated in a mock election and activities that included visits from public officials, volunteering at volunteer registration drives, viewing and discussing televised debates, get-out-the-vote activities, and creating political cartoons. The development of She Votes was supported by a grant from The Brico Fund.
Amanda Thompson, Girls Inc. of Holyoke's GMAD (Girls Making A Difference) Coordinator, has been working with the girls on the She Votes initiative.