ITHACA, N.Y. — A new local initiative is teaching children about civic engagement. On Sunday, about 30 children and their families gathered in Ithaca Town Hall to enjoy ice cream, ask Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick questions about his job and learn more about how local government works. The event was one of several activities planned in the newly launched Tompkins County Democratic Committee Kids Taking Action initiative.
The initiative features a series of events designed to engage families with children from ages 5 to 12 in learning about politics, local government and community projects. While the activities are geared toward younger children, people of all ages and political affiliation can attend.
“The goal is to make it exciting, make it fun, and help kids realize that civic engagement is important,” said Stacey Dimas, a member of the Tompkins County Democratic Committee who helped organize Sunday’ event. “It’s not just an obligation, it’s a joy. It’s fun to actually get involved, it’s fun to get to know who your mayor is, it’s fun to get to know all the people in government and inform the government and see how we can better help the community.”
On Sunday, children quizzed Myrick about his start in politics, his day-to-day work and even his pets. Others had more serious questions in mind such as, “Why are there homeless people?” Before fielding questions, Myrick told the children about the importance of teamwork and said he believes each of them will be successful in the future.
“Growing up I learned about all these successful people and I learned they were great on their own: George Washington beat the British and Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in the United States. The truth is that hundreds of years of advocating for this is what allowed Abraham Lincoln to change the course of our history,” Myrick told the children in the crowd. “All the best things are group efforts and I believe all of you are going to be successful.”
During the first Kids Taking Action event July 23, about 20 children took a field trip to the Tompkins County Board of Elections. Jennifer Lyons, another member of TCDC who helped organize the event Sunday, said they learned about voting by filling out ballots gauging their opinions on the best ice cream flavors and the best local parks, along with what group of people locally need the most help and what issues are most important in the community. Lyons said the winners were vanilla and mint chocolate chip ice cream, the Ithaca Children’s Garden, people who are homeless, and environmental issues. Lyons added that the children also voted on ballot propositions including if everyone should have a puppy, which, surprisingly, only three kids voted against.
Dimas added that Kids Taking Action also benefits adults by providing a kid-friendly introduction to civic engagement that everyone in the family can learn from and enjoy. “This is especially for families because you want to do something with your kid and you want to teach them all theses things but sometimes there’s not really a lot of opportunities to be able to do that.”
She added that children at this age are good at taking the initiative to solve problems. “Children are really great at seeing a problem and being like, ‘This is how we’re going to fix it,’ and they just go for it.”
Myrick said it’s important to show children early on that they will have the power to influence politics as they get older.
“This is really when your idea of how the world works is formed,” Myrick said. “For me, my first introduction to government was the idea that there was someone out there making decisions that impacted me. I think I was around 6 or 7 years old then. What changed for me when I was about 19 or 20 was the idea that I could actually be one of those people. I just thought that other people make decisions and I have to live with them, and we should instead show our young people that they have power, they can vote, they can run for office, they can hold office, and they can be one of those people who are in charge. I think this is a good time to start that education.”
The next event in the Kids Taking Action initiative will take place from 2:15 p.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 3 at the Tompkins County Recycling and Materials Management Office, where children will learn about what items are recyclable and get a tour of the building and see where commercial recycling is sorted. Later that month, from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 22, families can have ice cream with Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne at Ithaca Bakery in the Triphammer Mall.
People interested in bringing their children must RSVP via the Kids Taking Action event Facebook page or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Parents can also join the Kids Taking Action mailing list to stay updated on future events by emailing email@example.com.
For more information about the Kids Taking Action initiative and future event dates, visit its Facebook page.
Featured image: Mayor Svante Myrick speaks to a crowd of children who were part of the Kids Taking Action event Sunday, Aug. 18 in Ithaca Town Hall. (Photo by J.T. Stone/The Ithaca Voice)