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From East L.A. to D.C.

From East L.A. to D.C.
Delegates from the East Los Angeles branch of the YMCA

Judy Muro didn’t think that helping some children at the YMCA would lead to something as big as a trip to the White House – but it did.

For about six months, Muro, a third-year part-time MSW student at the USC School of Social Work, mentored teens in the YMCA Youth & Government program, which promotes government involvement among high school students.

Muro worked with the 11 delegates from the East Los Angeles branch of the YMCA – the first delegation from this location ever to participate in the program – to identify a social problem in their community, put together a bill to resolve that issue and lobby for it in a mock government.

Then the fun really started. The East L.A. delegation, with the fundraising help of the USC Latina/o Social Work Caucus, traveled to Sacramento for the five-day Model Legislature and Court. There they had use of the historic halls, chambers and offices of the Capitol, Supreme Court and the office of Gov. Jerry Brown.

The best part? In February, two of the students were invited to Washington, D.C., where they were treated to a performance by musicians John Legend and Nick Jonas. The students were sponsored by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard’s office and the Grammy Museum at the invitation of first lady Michelle Obama, who hosted a Black History Month celebration complete with a tutorial on the history of Motown and its relationship with the civil rights movement. The students were selected based on their outstanding participation in the Youth & Government program and a commitment to their community.

Muro has been a volunteer with the YMCA for four years. She has served in many roles, including indoor-cycling instructor, annual fundraising campaigner and volunteer committee member, in addition to Youth & Government adviser.

She used her experience with the YMCA as a case study of grassroots advocacy through policy for a class taught by lecturer Stephen Koffman. As she wrote this paper, Muro was forced to examine her commitment to the organization and found it strengthened.

“The reason why my commitment grew so much is because [the YMCA] encouraged me to apply to the USC graduate program, and one of my letters of recommendation came from my mentor at this YMCA [branch],” she said.

Muro, who is in the mental health concentration, said she learned a lot through her work with the budding policymakers at the YMCA.

“I learned that we can actually make change in terms of being able to influence students and implement social work practices so they become well versed in the political system,” she said. “Their perspective really changed because they felt they were powerless – some couldn’t even pay for college applications – but now they see that things like this can happen. They didn’t expect to go to the White House!”

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