By Michele DeLuca firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — Is it hard to imagine a group of teenage girls running the whole state? And having fun doing so?
Not for Angela Gallo, 17, a Ransomville teen who was elected governor of the 2013 Empire Girls State this summer.
Girls State is a nonpartisan national program that teaches young women responsible citizenship. The New York program was held the week of July 1 at the State University of New York at Brockport.
There were 360 girls from all over the state gathered at the school, with 23 from Niagara and Erie counties. Their challenge: Create a mythical state, then divide into two imaginary political parties. The point is to teach them the complexities of working together — a challenge even when party lines are imaginary.
But, while Angela learned a lot about running a state, she also learned that politics and government are more about people than process.
“My notebook is filled with notes on parliamentary procedure,” she said after returning from the week-long adventure. “But, my heart is filled with friends and experiences. It was unforgettable.”
The girls wrote bills on education, national healthcare, anti-terrorism measures, and near the end of the week, held an election for governor.
Angela said her most memorable moment was when a fellow candidate gave a campaign speech asking her followers to vote for Angela.
“She said when she first got to Girls State she felt welcome, not because she knew anybody, but because she met somebody and that person was me,” Angela recalled.
And, as often happens in real-life politics, Angela found a way to thank the girl for her support. After Angela won the election, she rewarded her former competitor with a seat in her cabinet.
“I had to assign 12 spots. I immediately gave her the one that she wanted. She deserved it. Anybody who would stand up in front of the crowd and do something like that, in my mind, you deserve a seat.”
Empire Girls State is a program sponsored by the American Legion auxiliary which is the largest women’s patriotic organization in the world. Part of a national program created in 1937, Girls State has has touched the lives of more than a million girls and women, including former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and TV newswoman Jane Pauley.
The experience has changed Angela’s life.
“I have this weird confidence now,” she said. “I used to be really cocky because I have a lot going for me in life and I’m very excited for the future. But, even though I have another title to tack onto the brag list — and it’s the most important title I’ve ever received — it has humbled me.”
“I have a straighter back and a wider smile,” she added.
Angela, a graduate of the Leadership Niagara 2013 LYNC program for young people, was selected for Girls State by a trio of women from the O’leo Curtiss American Legion Post 830 of Ransomville. The ladies, whose auxiliary had raised money through raffles and pot luck dinners, interviewed candidates from Wilson and Lewiston Porter high schools who had been nominated by their guidance counselors. Angela was among the two they selected to send to Girls State.
“She just had a vivacious sparkle,” Catherine Neiswonger of the auxiliary, said of Angela.
Angela credited the LYNC program for her success.
“By employing many of the valuable lessons I learned through LYNC, I was able to speak confidently in front of crowds, work effectively within groups and ended up triumphant,” she wrote in an email to Leadership Niagara director Molly Anderson.
Angela’s mom, Jean Gallo, a chemistry teacher from the Lockport School District, cried when she heard her daughter was elected as governor of Girls State.
“I was thrilled for her,” said Jean, “I was absolutely thrilled that she had the presence to present herself in a way that was positive, and that she had the honesty and integrity to rise above cliques. She definitely left a positive impression on 360 other girls.”
As for Angela, she’s about to go into her senior year at Lewiston-Porter High school, and is considering more political sciences classes, but in the meantime she has developed a taste for winning. She has her eye on the top spot at the Lewiston Peach Festival, Sept. 6-8.
“I’m running for Peach Queen,” she said. “The way I knew I wanted to try out for Peach Queen is the same way I knew I wanted to try out for governor.”