Last month, the Tompkins County Democratic Committee launched Kids Taking Action, a program with a series of activities for families and kids to introduce political and civic engagement at a young age.
Kids Taking Action activities are meant for families with kids ages 5 to 12 and are designed to help “children learn what it means to be a civically engaged member of their community,” according to a recent press release. Though it was created by the TCDC, all events are open to any party affiliation.
Kids Taking Action owes its existence to its planning team, which includes TCDC members Liz Hartman, Stacey Dimas and Jen Lyons.
Dimas said it was an idea that came about in the spring out of companion activities for the Young Democrats. Hartman said that, shortly after she joined TCDC in 2017, she wanted to get more involved in the committee, and after realizing the biggest challenge was accessibility and membership, the idea for Kids Taking Action was born.
“Our broader goals are really to bring the Democratic Committee into the community,” Hartman said. “This can be a great way to not only engage with the community but also be a friendly entry point for people who maybe haven’t heard about the Democratic Committee or maybe they have but have no idea who’s on the committee.”
More specifically, Hartman said, Kids Taking Action is all about getting kids interested in the political process at a young age.
“A lot of our events, we try to make family-friendly, but there’s nothing focused on the children, and this is a really great way not only to find time for important activities where parents will actually prioritize it because it’s for their kids … [but also] for the kids to understand, what is it that their parents are so interested in?” Hartman said.
Jim Gustafson, chair of the TCDC, said he loved the idea for Kids Taking Action, as did the rest of the committee.
“I think it’s a great idea to help encourage parents to get their kids [involved],” Gustafson said. “It’s always great when you see somebody come with an idea … that garners enthusiasm and support. … It’s something that people are very enthusiastic about, and it’s fun to have kids around.”
On a personal level, Dimas said she likes being able to have and organize events open to all demographics that her kids can understand and have fun, too.
“Civic engagement, educational activities and family fun was the heart of it,” Dimas said. “Trying to get everyone involved from all races, all classes, is super, super important.”
The program’s first event was a field trip to the Tompkins County Board of Elections (BOE) office on July 23. About 20 kids and their families journeyed to the BOE to fill out and submit mock ballots, sharing their opinions on issues ranging from fun, like favorite flavors of ice cream, to more serious, like groups that need the most help (i.e., homeless, children, etc.).
Stephen Dewitt, BOE Democratic commissioner, said that, though the BOE has never hosted a family event like this before, it was a welcome activity. The kids were well engaged and had plenty of good questions, he said.
“Generally, we don’t have time to do something like that, but they came here, and we had the time, and it worked out well,” Dewitt said. “I think it was good exposure for younger people to actually see how [voting] works.”
Creating enough interest in voting is a positive thing, Dewitt said, and hopefully, when the kids get older, they will be inspired to vote for real.
“It’s positive from that standpoint,” Dewitt said. “I think anytime that you can let somebody know how to vote … and make them feel more comfortable in the process, that’s a good thing.”
Dimas said events like the mock ballot casting and a planned ice cream social help make political engagement – something kids and teens often consider a dry topic – enjoyable while also showing its importance.
“It’s easy to engage kids with ice cream,” Dimas said. “We were just trying to figure out, how do we make things fun?”
Kids Taking Action is designed to be open to all political parties, Hartman and Dimas stressed, especially since many in Tompkins County are unaffiliated.
“These are all issues that I think are across parties,” Dimas said. “We all care very much about our environment. We all care about our children. We care that our children get involved.”
Hartman shared a similar viewpoint.
“It’s not about party; it’s about teaching,” Hartman said.
Hartman and Liz both have a personal connection and motivation behind Kids Taking Action, they said. Dimas said she is often discouraged by the lack of civic engagement in the community, and Kids Taking Action is meant to combat that.
“I believe in community. I believe in equality across the board,” Dimas said. “And so, for me, that is the most powerful thing as to why this is so important to me.”
Hartman said, for her, it is all about making sure the committee is properly representing the county at large.
“I want our committee to reflect our community,” Hartman said. “That’s one of the challenges facing a lot of Democratic committees, ours included, and I think this is a way to really broaden what we’re doing, and that’s really important to me personally.”
Gustafson agreed, saying the committee has been trying to get as many people and cultures involved to improve representation and membership.
“The broader the representation, the more diverse the people who participate are … the more the committee represents the community as a whole and the more likely you are to encourage participation,” Gustafson said.
Dimas said she and others plan to keep Kids Taking Action going for months and years to come.
“There is hope. But in order to fuel that hope, you have to take action,” Dimas said. “Our children are our future.”
Kids Taking Action is funded by members of the committee, Hartman said, which ensures all the event are 100% free. Purity is donating the ice cream for the next event, Aug. 18’s Ice Cream with Mayor Svante Myrick at 2:30 p.m. in Dewitt Park. Future planned events include a recycling tour and ice cream with Sheriff Derek Osborne.
The Aug. 18 event is full, but families may join the email list to be notified of other events at KidsTakingActionNY@gmail.com. Events are free but do require RSVP, either via email or through the Facebook page: KidsTakingActionNY.
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