Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tonia Black-Gold
Catawba College News ServiceCatawba College will host Tar Heel Girls State today through Saturday.
This marks the sixth consecutive year Catawba has hosted Girls State, which involves 275 girls from across North Carolina. The high school juniors who are academically in the top third of their class will attend the 68th annual, weeklong session, sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary, Department of North Carolina.
Top North Carolina government officials are among the distinguished leaders who will address those gathered for Girls State.
Speakers include Family Crisis Counseling Program Coordinator Cindy Stevenson, speaking at 1 p.m. Monday, and N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall speaking at 2:45 p.m. Monday, both in Omwake-Dearborn Chapel.
On Wednesday, Phillip Kirk, Catawba College’s vice president for external affairs and chairman emeritus of the N.C. Board of Education, will speak at 11 a.m. in Keppel Auditorium.
On Thursday in Keppel Auditorium, attorney and former Miss North Carolina Janet Ward Black will speak at 11 a.m.
At 7 p.m., Thursday, the public is invited as Tar Heel Girls State hosts its traditional flag ceremony on Holmes Plaza in front of the Hedrick Administration Building on campus.
Tar Heel Girls State is run by seven American Legion Auxiliary members from across North Carolina who volunteer their time. Two of those auxiliary members will mark their 20th year with the program during the weeklong session. They are Kaye Brown Hirst of Salisbury, chairwoman of the commission, and Julie Cooper Head of Valdese, program director.
Other local residents involved on staff include Dr. Karl Hales, parliamentarian; Mary Jane Thompson, house mother; Tina Brown, music director; Sea Heno, assistant counselor; and Abby Bucher, junior counselor.
The Girls State program is a weeklong practical study of the structure and operation of North Carolina state government. In a non-partisan atmosphere, participants take a “hands-on” approach to learning how state and local governments function. Citizens, as participants are known, develop an understanding of the responsibilities of citizenship by creating and living under their own mock government.During the week, citizens are grouped into cities as they organize their own local governments, elect officers, prepare city charters and conduct city activities. Citizens also assume the role of a senator, representative, or lobbyist to research and write bills and resolutions for the Girls State Legislature. Each citizen is also a member of a fictitious political party which will develop a party platform, engineer campaigns for party candidates and ultimately elect a slate of officers to govern Tar Heel Girls State. Parliamentary procedure is used to conduct all meetings.
Although the Girls State program is held in every state, North Carolina is the only state in the country to have had Girls State for 68 consecutive years, according to Commission Chairwoman Kaye Hirst. The program is an Americanism project of the American Legion Auxiliary and an American Legion Auxiliary unit approves all applications and nominates girls for the program.
This year, local girls from Rowan and Cabarrus counties will be among the participants. From Rowan County, students are sponsored by American Legion Auxiliary units in Salisbury, Faith and Landis. From Cabarrus County, students are sponsored by American Legion Auxiliary units in Concord, Kannapolis, Harrisburg, or Mt. Pleasant.
Two delegates from Tar Heel Girls State will be selected to participate in Girls Nation, slated for July 21-28 in Washington. The names of these two individuals will be announced during closing ceremonies of Tar Heel Girls State scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday.
Notable former Girls State participants include Bernice Lerner and Ashley Moore, both of Salisbury, who were elected governors at Tar Heel Girls State, and national figures who participated in Girls State programs in other locations, such as television personality Jane Pauley, former Texas Governor Ann Richard, former Miss U.S.A. Terri Utley, and the first female Wing Commander in the U.S. Air Force Academy, Capt. Michelle Johnson.