Blog: This high schooler helps run the government

There’s university to apply for, volunteering as a Peachland Ambassador, regular schoolwork and graduation plans (whatever that ends up looking like). There’s also a government to run, and that’s why I’m meeting Lily Avendaño Gregory on this (rapidly darkening) late Wednesday afternoon. Where we were supposed to meet was closed, but thanks to some friendlies outside the Edgewater, I found her waiting with her parents across the street. The plan is to have a quick conversation about BC Youth Parliament, something that’s occupied tons of this Grade 12 MBSS student’s time the past two years. I remember around the end of January last year, before the world shut down, she was in council chambers talking about her experience as a first-timer at BCYP – it’s a youth service group that’s almost 100 years old. Their motto is ‘Youth Serving Youth’ and they do that through parliamentary procedure, just like the provincial government. Back in 2019, it was super-exciting being in the actual Chambers in Victoria, she recalls as we start walking towards the pier. Now, she’s in her second year – and with it has come some extra responsibility – she’s the Minister of New Member Relations, and has also taken on the Parliamentary Secretary role for the Southern Interior (Lily also works with the regional youth parliament).

“I found out about BCYP thanks to the Ambassadors,” she says, explaining that District Councillor Terry Condon sent the application over the Ambassadors’ Linda Sarsons, who recommended Lily – who was confused as to why she was chosen.

“Honestly, I had no interest in politics at all,” she says.

“But I applied anyway, just for fun, and I got in and I realized only 97 kids from all over the province get in. So I was like, OK I should feel lucky about this.”

She said that first year was surprisingly, great – even though she had to re-remember what she learned back in Grade 10 about parliamentary procedure.

“Eventually you get used to it and you understand what’s going on. And the people are amazing. It’s just like an organization of like-minded teens from 16 to 21 years old and one of the best parts of it is it’s not a mock parliament. All the bills and legislation that we present and pass, it’s for real. So that’s why we can execute all the projects that we propose.”

Their most important project is called Camp Phoenix – it’s a week-long camping experience for kids who don’t have the financial or social means to get into a regular summer camp. It’s been running for more than 50 years, but of course it’s postponed until there’s an all-clear from COVID.

Also cancelled in 2020 was what would have been Lily’s second trip to the Legislature for the 92nd sitting of the BC Youth Parliament. Instead, it was five days of post-Christmas Zoom sessions, from 8-9 in the morning til late in the evening.

“We were like 100 people on the Zoom call, every single day,” says Lily of five-day stretch, which took place Dec. 27 to 31, 2020. With so many people, she says it was a little difficult at first.

Peachlander Lily Avendaño-Gregory and I managed to get a quick pic before it got too dark during our walk this week.

“But the thing I love about this organization is that everyone who applies has a similar mindset. So, everyone tried and I’ve made so many new friends that I can’t wait to meet in person.”

Making sure new members feel welcome is part of Lily’s Cabinet role. All new members have a mentor, and they obviously bonded in December – when the Zoom sessions ended, everyone was sad.

“We called it post-session depression because it was all ‘oh no, what am I going to do now,’” Lily laughed.

They soon got back to work – and right now, most of it involves setting up the grants and sponsorship committees, and teaching new members how to access grants and sponsors for their projects. And until the next session, in December 2021, they’re working to enact the work accomplished over this past Christmas break.

“As you can see, there’s a lot of stuff,” says Lily, showing me the binder full of resolutions, proposed legislation and work to do.

So, with all this, I have to ask the question every Grade 12 student is always asked: What are your plans next year?

“Politics is like my Plan B,” says Lily, as we head back to her parent’s truck.

“I actually want to go into film school, which is so different from this. Film school would be amazing. I’m hoping to get into a film program through UBC so I can actually have the university experience. It’s super competitive, there’s something like 300 or 350 applicants and only 15 get in. So we’ll see how that goes.”

The same is true for graduation. Lily’s on the grad council, and they met this week. What Grad 2021 is going to look like is definitely up in the air, she says.

I mention something I’ve thought about  – that people her age really have it tough right now, right when they want to be free.

“I think so, it is tough,” she says.

“For grad, it’s hard to plan events and people get upset because we won’t be able to have an actual normal grad. We’re seeing what we need to do.”

She says if someone told her in her graduating year, (pandemic aside), that she’d also be really into BCYP, she wouldn’t believe it.

“So that’s why I want to thank everyone who got me here. This has changed my life. I’ve met so many people who have influenced me a lot and just people I know will be lifelong friends. 

The people is my favourite thing about the organization. We call them ‘parlationships’ now,” she laughs.

If you want to know more about BC Youth Parliament, here’s their website..

Written by Kristen Friesen

January 30, 2021

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