The American Legion Girl's State brings 500+ civic-minded girls to campus

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Running for governor, county office and city mayor are just some of the many activities that high school girls from counties across the Volunteer State get to participate in at the 2014 American Legion Auxiliary Volunteer Girls State camp hosted at Lipscomb University, May 25-31. 

Since 2010, as many as 550 high school girls have been coming to Lipscomb’s campus for a one-week camp where they form cities and run their own government, all while crafting citizenship responsibilities and leadership skills. This year, a new record of attendance was set by 573 studious girls. Before Lipscomb, Girls State called Middle Tennessee State University home.

“Our move to Lipscomb from MTSU offered us a smaller venue which meant we could move more than 500 girls more easily across campus,” said Kathy Edwards, executive counselor for Volunteer Girls State. “With additional rooms within the same vicinity, we were able to expand from a 12 city Girls State to 14 cities.”

Edwards said the girls have benefited from Lipscomb’s campus as well.

“It’s been a wonderful opportunity for them to see what Lipscomb has to offer,” she said. “It feels like we’re in our own little heaven here. The security, the staff and administration have been wonderful to work with. It shows that we’re working with a school that knows hospitality.”

The students had the chance to run their own city mayor elections and council meetings. Baily-Anna Teague, a rising senior from McNairy Central High School in Selmer, Tenn., was elected city mayor of Taylor City. Teague says she’s not only learned all about the elements of how to run a government, but she’s also learned a thing or two about people.

In her role so far as city mayor, Teague has elected a board of education and a police chief, and she intends to be a strong support system for her citizens during the upcoming Volunteer Girls State Olympics.

“I’ve learned that with the diversity of everyone’s ideas, even if we’re all different, we can bring our ideas together and compromise, and come up with a better solution than what we might have come up with alone,” Teague said.

During the week, the girls had the chance to see the Tennessee Supreme Court in action in Collins Alumni Auditorium. Current issues were discussed, such as gun control, civil rights and the legalization of marijuana.

Gov. Bill Haslam also spoke to the students, who had the opportunity to pose questions for Haslam later on in the program.

“I love this event because of the atmosphere that’s always in this room when I have the chance to be here,” Haslam said. “What you’re doing here really is important. I say that for several reasons. I have benefited from the same government skills that you were taught and learned at Girls State.”

The questions posed from the girls demonstrated a breadth of knowledge of current, hard-hitting issues. Gov. Haslam was faced with questions about the death penalty in Tennessee, gun control and same-sex marriages.

Executive Counselor Edwards says Girls State is much more than just a government camp. Counselors not only want to teach the girls how to run a government, they also want to teach them to give back to their community.

“We teach young women to think for themselves and to understand the importance of having a voice. For many, this is where they find their voice, and they go back and use it,” Edwards said.

Citizenship Director Jenise Gordon says at the end of it all, she wants the girls to be stretched in ways they did not anticipate.

“They can take that back to their hometown and influence change with the people they know best,” Gordon said. “If we accomplish what we are striving for, then we’ve not only grown a group of more than 500 girls, we’ve grown many communities back home where these girls are from.”