Democracy in Action at Capitol Hill Day: Q & A with Syd Stewart

Syd Stewart, Executive Director, Better Youth, Inc.
November 5th, 2019
Posted In: Uncategorized

Q: Syd, 2019 was your first Capitol Hill Day, what was it like traveling from California to Washington, D.C.?

A: Traveling to Washington D.C. from California for Capitol Hill Day to walk the halls of Congress and meet with my legislators was a memorable life experience. Memorable because it was sunny in Los Angeles when I left but when I landed in Washington, there was a triple polar vortex and historic government shutdown awaiting my arrival. Both weather and political impediments threatened to dampen my first time on Capitol Hill, but without process, there is no progress so I was optimistic despite the obstacles. In addition, the Government Relations team at MENTOR kept us abreast of real-time developments through emails and the mobile Summit app. I felt genuinely connected to the larger mentoring movement to push through barriers that threaten our collective ability to make a difference – both locally and nationally.

Q: Can you tell us more about preparation for Capitol Hill Day? What kinds of trainings and resources does MENTOR offer to support you before, during, and after Capitol Hill Day?

A: The Government Relations team at MENTOR began preparing us months before Capitol Hill Day. MENTOR hosted a live webinar that covered bills and issues to be addressed during our congressional meetings and they answered any questions including getting to/from Capitol Hill, appropriate attire, and security protocols. They also facilitated a state check-in webinar where we were able to directly network with all of our colleagues attending Capitol Hill Day from our states. Once we arrived, we attended the Capitol Hill Day Advocacy Workshop where we were given meeting day folders with helpful facts on each legislative bill and talking points. We were then able to gather in small groups (with some super cool folks) to further prepare for our congressional meetings. After Capitol Hill Day, when we had returned to our respective communities, there were several email follow-ups and opportunities for engagement with local congressional offices.

Q: What is your most memorable moment from Capitol Hill Day?

A: My most memorable Hill Day moment was at the Capitol Hill Day Kick-Off Breakfast listening to Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) share her personal experiences while encouraging and congratulating our efforts. Afterward, we assembled as a national delegation – together in our red MENTOR Capitol Hill Day t-shirts – to take our photo. THAT WAS AMAZING!

Q: How did it feel as the leader of a mentoring program to talk about the impact of your program with elected officials?

A: As a leader of a local mentoring program who serves foster youth directly, it felt empowering to speak in person with elected officials who have the power to change policies for the youth we serve. It was important to sit down with Representative Lou Correa (D-CA) and discuss the Foster Youth Mentoring Act. I couldn’t believe we were actually kicking it with a real member of Congress! Representative Correa took the time to listen to our concerns, share his interests, and take a selfie. Democracy in 2019 doesn’t get better than that!

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give to future Capitol Hill Day Participants?

A: The best piece of advice I could give to a future Hill Day participant is to prepare and take it seriously. Your voice matters and you can make a difference. I know that sounds like a cliché but I discovered it to be a matter of truth. I had a shadowed view of the democratic process before attending Capitol Hill Day but I decided to keep an open mind and to engage with all I had.  By the time I left Hill Day, I had a stack of business cards from mentoring colleagues, elected officials, and congressional staffers. After Hill Day, I followed up with each government office and to my surprise, they responded! I went on to set up meetings with local congressional offices where I was able to engage my program participants.  As a result, they are now hosting a local “Get out the Vote” youth rally. My Hill Day experience helped to shift my perspective and in doing so, I was able to share my political optimism with my youth constituency – and it became contagious.

To learn more about Capitol Hill Day click here

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