|Aboudara helping to mold boys into men
RP man runs program that gives real life experiences
For five days every summer, nearly 1,000 high school-aged boys from all over California are in charge of forming their own government, passing their own laws and electing those who will represent their state at the National Boys Program in Washington DC. The California Boys State Program, which was established by the American Legion in 1937, has been in California now for 77 years and promises to provide those elected junior-year level high schoolers with “a week that shapes a lifetime.”
40 years and counting
Rohnert Park native, Tim Aboudara, has been with the California Boys State Program for 40 years and has held the position of Chief Officer for the last six, meaning that he runs the entire program, working with about 80 local volunteers to make this sometimes life-changing experience possible.
“What we do is attempt to replicate reality to give these students an experience of what it’s like to run a city and state government,” explains Aboudara, who was asked to stay on as a staff member three years after completing the program himself. “We hope to instill a sense of pride in our system and to motivate them to get involved.”
His sons, Tim Jr. and Brent, have been involved with the program for around 15 years. Aboudara’s Assistant Chief Councilor, Bill Denson, is also from Rohnert Park.
In their junior year of high school, academically outstanding boys are nominated by their teachers and counselors to participate in an interview with the Rohnert Park American Legion Post.
This year, six were chosen to represent the city.
In California, there are 25 participating cities from five counties; all meet up and live on the Sacramento State campus for five days for a week full of activities.
First, they pre-assign the boys into two political parties: The Whigs and The Federalists. Next, they choose which branch of government they want to work for and experience the amount of work similar to those in a functioning government. For example, those running for the Judicial Branch will take a modified BAR Exam, and those joining the Legislative Branch will draft laws they want passed. Those running for county office have to collect signatures, prepare speeches and participate in elections.
“These boys will have the responsibility of all the issues we see today and in the next 10-15 years,” says Aboudara. “By exposing them to this, it can have an impact on what they pursue in college, which ultimately leads to what they pursue as a career.”
“The leaders that we have today, many of them went through this program and it made a big enough impression that it made them choose to focus their lives on public service,” he continues, noting figures such as Bill Clinton, Tom Brokaw and Dick Cheney as American Legion Boys State Program alumni.
In the last couple days of the program, the boys meet their state representatives at the State Capitol and elect those who will represent California in the Boys National Program in Washington DC. Of the 1,000 boys, 22 will be invited on a weeklong trip to tour the White House, pay respects in the Arlington National Cemetery and even possibly meet President Obama. Aboudara has made the trip four times.
A real group effort
“I’m very passionate about what we do, and I’m very passionate about the 80 other people who make this program work. This isn’t a one-person effort,” he says, speaking volumes of his staff. “These other volunteers are teachers, public safety officers, retired and giving up a week of their lives for the same reason I’ve been involved with it for 40 years.”
Although it is a yearlong journey of hard work and planning leading up to one week out of the year, Aboudara says the experience is indescribably rewarding. For the last five years they’ve held a survey to see what participants get out of the program.
More than 99 percent said they would register and vote in the first election for which they are eligible. More than 90 percent said their participation had encouraged them to go home and get involved in community service.
Why it’s worth it
“When you get to see close to 1,000 of the brightest kids in the country and witness their creativity and see their desire to make a difference and get to help them get there…” he says, “that’s what keeps you motivated.”
The California State Boys Program will run from June 20-27 this year. Go to www.boysstatecalifornia.org for more information.