Olivia Bowman, who recently graduated from Rancocas Valley Regional High School, shares her experiences on the YMCA Youth Conference on National Affairs representing our program on the national stage. Read the original article at: http://www.ymca-bc.org/2016/07/11/teens-cona-focus-impacting-future/

img_2844Arriving at the Mt. Laurel YMCA at 9:00pm on a Friday night to take a 13-hour bus ride to Black Mountain, North Carolina may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But, for the fifty delegates from New Jersey and Model United Nations they have had their tea cups ready for weeks. For us, theYMCA Youth Conference on National Affairs (CONA) means so much more than a long bus ride, business clothes and white placards with our names written across them. It means something much deeper. It represents a week of passion, hope and most importantly the Blue Ridge Spirit.

img_2730CONA is first about passion. Every delegate arrives with a written proposal solving a global or national issue they are passionate about. From reforming the United States Electoral College, to creating more comprehensive sexual education classes in public schools, each delegate has worked tirelessly to be able to present their proposal in front of their peers. It is breathtaking to see delegates from all over the nation present their ideas on how they believe they can positively impact our world. It is humbling to observe a delegate from Texas and a delegate from Massachusetts listen to each other’s stances with open ears. And it is inspiring to hear a delegate’s voice grow from shaky to confident in a matter of just two minutes.

Next, CONA is about being hopeful for the future. Too many times, millennials are criticized for being too lazy or too distracted. However, at CONA I have been blessed to witness 637 individual delegates passionately debate, do in-depth research, and actively respect the opinions of others. All three of these actions are both refreshing and motivating.

Anthumb_img_3322_1024-1d lastly, CONA is about finding what delegates call “The Blue Ridge Spirit”. Many delegates will say that it cannot be found anywhere else but CONA. Some delegates find it after they have traded pins on the porch of Eureka Hall with dozens of their peers from different states. Others find it while presenting their proposal and receiving a wave of spirit fingers from the audience (spirit fingers are used instead of clapping because it is more respectful, of course.) And even more find it during the conference hike while standing together holding an American flag at Black Mountain’s peak. The Blue Ridge Spirit presents itself in many different forms. But it has only one take away— unity. After all, for one week we are in a place of sanctuary. Somewhere where we can safely share our ideas without fear of judgement; creating a truly beautiful experience.

Right now, pulling away from the mountain is bitter sweet. This is a place I wish I could stay frozen in forever, because I have found a family here. I have found people that are different than myself and ones that are similar. Delegates from all walks of life have laughed with me, cried with me, and debated with me. As we leave, I finally realize that the Blue Ridge Spirit, the spirit of CONA, does not need to be sought out. It lives in all of us, we just have to be brave enough to find it.