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Catholic Youth Learn about Advocacy

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March 18, 2015

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” 
― Elie Wiesel

“Welcome back everyone!  We are starting the Spring Semester with a service challenge.  This isn’t for the squeamish… you may have to lift heavy things, travel far distances, and your True Religion jeans might get dirty.”

And so opens the website for The Mitty Advocacy Project, a “student run legislative leadership team that works to research, advocate and spread awareness about social justice issues to improve the quality of life for the less fortunate.” 

On Tuesday, March 24, more than 100 students from high schools around the state will be engaging in “Youth Advocacy Day” in Sacramento where they will advocate on behalf of some of the most underserved populations of the State of California and the Nation.

Michael Accorsi, a social studies teacher from Archbishop Mitty High School, has gently grown the project over the past 10 years at his school in San Jose.  Youth Advocacy Day has grown from the pioneering program at Archbishop Mitty to include similar programs at other high schools over the years.

The issues focus for this year’s Youth Advocacy Day are Minimum Wage, juvenile solitary confinement, Maximum Family Grant (MFG), Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and teacher tax credits.  The students come “full circle” at advocacy day. 

The “day” actually starts months ahead of time when students volunteer at one of several specified service projects in the community that work in each of these key areas.  The challenge:  “no one must know about your involvement”   (except parents and the people engaged in the particular project.) The classroom content, the project immersion and then the advocacy trips all enable the students to “understand how to respond to issues legislatively.”

The Mitty Advocacy project sowed its roots in earlier years through the lobbying efforts organized by the California Catholic Conference that brought adult parishioners from throughout dioceses in California to advocate in Sacramento on key issues.  The synergy between the two groups, adults and students made for effective tag teaming. 

With the interest of so many students, however, the youth program – which is as much about learning as it is about advocacy – emerged as its own event.

With the myriad of Washington DC and Sacramento trips, it is transformation that Accorsi recalls most fondly of the 10 year old project.  “Watching how young people emerge as leaders has been one of the most rewarding aspects” of his work with the students.  He describes how one student, not a Catholic nor a Christian, was so moved by the work of the Church and its commitment to service that she became one of the most ardent,  active and “delicately passionate” advocates he has seen in both young people and adults.  And then, he adds with a chuckle, with a completely different personality, the program created a “future litigator” who tackled issues with fierceness and ferocity “worthy of any future courtroom.”

Peering into the future, Accorsi’s guidance, coaching and investment have truly paid off as the most amazing transition has already presented its results:   numerous students have parlayed their early passions by working in the field of public service from campaign workers to legislative staff at the Capitol.  With passionate alumni, the diaspora guarantees that messages are being heard and impactful change is sure to be made.

More information on the work of these high school students can be found at www.mittyadvocacy.org