By Molly Brennan
As witnessed in the chant battle during meals, state pride is a significant part of the CONA experience. Delegation activities give delegates a sense of community. The Ambassador program, which started last year, allows delegates without a state delegation to participate in the conference.
Ambassador delegates come from states without established Youth and Government programs. Derek Summerville, the adviser for the ambassador delegations, said CONA staff work with interested YMCA State Alliances to send delegates to the conference. Delegates from Rhode Island, Alaska, Utah, Nevada, North Dakota and Nebraska attend CONA as Ambassadors, either because their state cannot provide a Youth and Government program or because they are using this experience to help establish the program in their state.
Blanca Saavedra, UT, joined Youth and Government because she enjoys using her leadership skills to make positive change. Within most Youth and Government programs, attending CONA is an honor reserved for the most experienced students. Both delegate Saavedra and fellow Utah Ambassador Cole McCubbins agree that entering the program with little experience was difficult because they struggled with unfamiliar procedures. Their adviser contends the conference is still a valuable experience for these delegates. “For most of our students,” Summerville said, “[CONA] is the culmination of all their hard work and improvement. For these students, it is a chance to see where they need to go and how they can get there.” Delegate Saavedra’s goal is to take the lessons she’s learned and the experiences she’s had to “enhance the program, make it bigger, allow more people to join, and see what it’s all about.”
Ambassador delegates face unique challenges during the conference since they lack a full state delegation, which many rely on for support. However, Delegate McCubbins says that several states stepped up and welcomed the Ambassadors. “Kentucky, Florida, the Carolinas, and a few others have been especially kind to us,” McCubbins said, adding that, since many Ambassadors have little experience with Youth and Government, it’s helpful when other delegates help them with procedural details.↔
For many delegates attending CONA, the conference is a completely new experience. From the aesthetic pictures of mountains while sitting on the front porch to hiking up to Eureka Hall for the fourth time, many experiences at CONA are a first. Goals, personalities, and ideas change constantly as one grows throughout the conference.
When asking first-year delegate Sebastian Montesinos from New Mexico about how his goals for CONA changed as the conference progressed, he replied that his goal moved from writing a really outstanding proposal to meeting new people and making connections with other delegates. While his original goal was more personal, CONA morphed his goal into one of community.
Not only do goals change, but expectations of what CONA is like prove to be significantly different from reality. Quiwanaki Ramsey from the Florida delegation said that at first he expected the CONA atmosphere and proposal sharing to be strict and regulated; however, in reality, he found that CONA involved an unbelievably loving and respectful environment.
Although the congregation of delegates from different regions of the United States brings different opinions, Ramsey related proposal sharing to the environment of a loving family. While goals and expectations may change throughout the conference, the sense of community and spirit which emits from the Blue Ridge Assembly will always remain constant.