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Identity & Community

GirlGov Capital Kick Off Inspires Teens To Be Politically Active

Women and Girls Foundation

One hundred high school girls are in Harrisburg this week shadowing legislators and participating in their own mock congress to kick off this year’s GirlGov program.

GirlGov was created in 2009 as an offshoot of the Women and Girls Foundation’s Girls as Grantmakers program.

Heather Arnet, CEO of the foundation, said they set aside $10,000 in grant money and asked the girls to work out how to appropriate the funds during their pseudo-congressional session.

Arnet said budget season is an especially appropriate time for the teens to visit the capital.

“They’re getting to do their own smaller version of … (making) decisions about where money is invested in their community,” Arnet said. “They’re seeing how it’s challenging because, no matter what, there’s never enough money to go around.”

Twenty legislators have signed up to give the young women an intimate portrait of life as a state lawmaker. Local politicians participating include Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Shaler), Rep. Ed Gainey (D-East Liberty), Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Hill District) and others.

Emily Kirrik, 16, of Bethel Park Senior High School said she feels fortunate to be shadowing a female legislator, Rep. Kristin Hill (R-York), considering that only 45 of the state’s 253 lawmakers are female. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research recently ranked Pennsylvania number 48 out of 50 states in terms of female participation in the political process.

Kirrik said she had been leaning toward a career working with children, but that the GirlGov experience has led her to reconsider.

“I love debating a lot, so I think I might have to change my path,” Kirrik said. “This stuff’s really cool, and I kind of like politics now.”

Indyha Sielder, 17, of City Charter High School is attending the GirlGov program for the second year in a row. This year she’ll serve as mock Speaker of the House.

While she is still undecided on a college major, Sielder said she is certain she wants to pursue a career in politics.

“I want to help with poverty rates, education and the school system and racial profiling,” Sielder said.

Alumnae of the program include Chatham University student Sarah Pesi, who authored a law that loosened the state requirements for getting a restraining order. Before the bill was passed in March 2014, the person targeted by the restraining order had to be a family member or romantic partner of the victim. As a teen, Pesi was stalked by a stranger, but had no recourse under state law.

Another notable alumna is University of Pittsburgh student Julia Johnson, a local social justice advocate who is active in the Allegheny County Jail Health Justice and Black Lives Matter movements.

The teens return from Harrisburg on Thursday. GirlGov is a year-long program that blends mentorship with training in civics, government, philanthropy, community involvement, women’s history and leadership.