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Note: Sophie wrote this essay before the Common Application set the 500-word length limit.
The Allegany County Youth Board
I am not entirely sure how I ended up on the Allegany County Youth Board. I know my parents' friend recruited my mom after an older Board member retired, and he told her to ask me if I had any interest in becoming a youth member as there was no one yet to represent our district. I said sure, but wished I hadn't after the first meeting, during which a bunch of people my parents' age and older sat around discussing 'allocations' and 'subsidies.' "Nothing got done," I complained to my mom afterwards. I had thought politics was exciting; I had thought that there would be fiery debate, patriotic vehemence. I was disappointed, and I didn't want to go back.
I did go back, however. At first it was my mom's nagging that made me go. The more I went, though, the more I understood what people were saying and the more interesting it all was. I began to get a sense of how things worked on a board. I learned when to talk and when not to, and even occasionally added some input of my own. Soon it was I who nagged my mom to attend.
It was in one of our recent meetings that I got a taste of the heated discussions of my initial preconception. A Christian-based organization was requesting a grant to build a skate park and the head of the project was due to present her proposal. Although the Youth Board is a government entity and funded by taxpayer money, it is not unusual for funds to be allotted to religious groups, as long as it is clear that the grant will be used for non-religious purposes. For instance, the organization Youth for Christ receives public money each year for their recreation programs aimed at getting kids off the streets and providing alternatives to delinquent behavior. These projects, including a skate park like the one in question, are separate from the group's religious objectives and programs.
The woman who presented to us was in her thirties or forties and was, a board member told us, "a person of few words." From what she did say it was clear that she was poorly educated, that she was steady in her convictions and sincere in her desire to help, and that she was utterly naive about how to get the money she wanted for her program. It was this naivety, perhaps, that gave painful honesty to her words. We questioned her on whether kids of any faith would be allowed to skate there. They would, but they would be encouraged to "find God." Would there be any religious lessons taught? The lessons were separate; they didn't have to stay for them. They would be at the same place and at the same time, though. Would there be religious pamphlets or posters? Yes. What if a child didn't want to convert? Would they be made to? No, that would be left up to God.
After she left a heated debate ensued. On one side were my parents' friend, my mom, and me; on the other side were everyone else. It seemed clear that this proposition overstepped the line--the director had stated explicitly that it was a ministry. If the proposal were carried out, however, the skate park would be a great asset to her town, and the truth is that pretty much all of Allegany County is Protestant anyway. In all likelihood the skate park/ministry would only benefit the community, and in a town of under 2000 people with nearly 15% of them below the poverty line, they need all they can get. (continued on page 2...)