Thirty people attended a Girls State orientation meeting at Palmetto Bay’s American Legion Post 133 on Sunday, May 18, including the 10 young ladies who were selected to go to Tallahassee as delegates for the yearly program. Their parents and two alternates also attended. The post’s Women’s Auxiliary hosted the meeting and runs the local part of the program. Sylvia Fidler, who is the Department Girls State chair, gave the briefing. She said she had mixed feelings about this particular meeting.
“This program has been going on since 1947,” Fidler said. “I’ve been giving the orientation briefings for a number of years. This will be my last year doing this, but I have enjoyed every moment of Florida Girls State is a program designed to instill an understanding of the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship and public service. Each year 300 young women have a chance to learn about America’s democratic form of government through first-hand experience.
The area 10 delegates chosen for the 2014 session are mostly juniors attending area high schools in Key West, Homestead, South Miami, Miami and North Miami. They are Vanessa Aponte, Samantha Bonilla, Katelyn Bourke, Kaitlin Chanin, Erin Donahue, Lindsey Fiol, Alexandra Gutierrez, Kathryn Hickey, Alexa Lorenzo and Kaila Snow.
Donahue of North Miami is the first in her family to participate in Girls State. She said she is looking forward to making connections and visiting the state Capitol in Tallahassee.
“Definitely meeting a lot of new girls,” Donahue said. “Learning about the government. It
can be helpful in the future.”
Aponte, also from North Miami, said she wanted to participate because of a personal interest and long-range goal.
“In the future I would like to go into government, so this is an awesome opportunity,” Aponte said.
When asked if there is a particular area of government that appeals to her, she said, “I’m undecided; I’m still figuring that out. This will be a good chance to see.”
Bourke, who is from Homestead, said that she has enjoyed the whole selection process for Girls State and is looking forward to Tallahassee.
“It was a really awesome experience,” Bourke said. “I’m really excited about the bus ride up and the events there. I don’t know. I think it’s just the experience. I’ve never been that far away from home before.”
The students must be at Post 133 at 2 a.m. on Wednesday, June 25, to check in and will leave by bus at 3 a.m., arriving in Tallahassee by early afternoon to settle into dormitories on the campus of Florida State University. During the next few days they will join girls from other areas in forming 25 “cities” of 25 girls each. They will run for city and state offices, attend “law school” and workshop sessions, then form two parties, the Nationalists and Federalists.
Betty Gardner, who is a member of the American Legion Women’s Auxiliary representing the 14th District, said she likes the annual event and thinks Girls State is important for the girls.
“I’m with Unit 43 in Homestead, and I’m a past district president,” Gardner said. “I’ve ridden on the bus with them many times, up and back. It’s a really enjoyable experience. It’s a very good program; couldn’t do anything better. It’s the best.”
Besides the elections there is a pep rally, bill writing, committee hearings, a trip to the Capitol for inauguration day, photos, a mock trial in the state Supreme Court and a mock disaster plan. There will be a spirit showcase, and then the last day is capped by a dinner and awards night back at FSU. On Wednesday, July 3, they all board buses again for the return trip home, arriving about 7 p.m.
Maureen Peterson, chair of Girls State at Post 133, has been with the post for the past 15 years and says she has thoroughly enjoyed the program and its impact on the young women.
“It’s a thrill,” Peterson said. “I love to see the girls when they get back; they’re so excited. They’ve had such a great time. They learn about our government. They all start out on the same playing field so they have to make friends, get through everything on their own or with their friends to help them.
“They come back with so much knowledge about our country and I love to see their excitement. I check with them through the years as they grow, how they progress and how this has helped them. It’s been really great.”