From the outside, nothing about Sayville (N.Y.) Congregational UCC's historic building clues passersby in on the hope for change brewing inside. Unless, of course, one notices the gigantic banner publicizing the youth group's latest effort to get 18-24 year olds both registered to vote and out to the polls on election day.
The congregation was already running a get out the vote campaign for the mid-term elections when the youth group banded together, launched 8teenvote.org, and ramped up their efforts to target first-time voters, especially those turning 18 on or before Nov. 6.
The website is designed to assist visitors from across the country in finding out their voter information. In addition to a link that allows users to look up the registration information for each state, the site has links enabling people to register, check their voting status, and find information on their local representatives.
"Introducing youth to civic engagement and social justice movements require designs that foster the opportunity to get involved without the requisite bias," says the Rev. Ray Bagnuolo, pastor. "8teenvote provides the chance for young folk to encourage others to exercise their civic duty to vote, regardless of their partisan or political views. It transcends election results with civic responsibility at the core of our democracy."
Along with the website, Sayville UCC also provided materials and templates for hand-out cards, postcards, flyers, and t-shirts, useful items as the youth participate in area events.
"The youth engaged the community and potential voters at a local mall, at the recent 'Summerfest in Sayville,' [and made] a presentation to local and state leaders at a recent justice forum held at the church," Bagnuolo says. "As a result of the gathering, 8teenvote.org was added to the social studies curriculum of a school district, included in studies leading up to the election."
When they began their work, the youth created a mission statement outlining the project's purpose of reaching new voters. It highlights the fact that only 28 percent of eligible voters voted in the 2016 presidential election.
"8teenvote.org is a student-led initiative that encourages young people (18-24) to get behind the issues that affect them by registering and showing up to the polls on Nov. 6," the youth wrote in part. "Our mission is to inform people of their rights and encourage them to act on them. We're over 30 million strong and we can make all the difference."
Bagnuolo says that in the wake of such tragedies as the Parkland shooting, such an outreach teaches and affirms for the youth "the importance and power of one's voice and their vote."
The youth organized the movement into three phases: register, vote, and access. Following the registration deadline (Oct. 12 in New York, it differs state to state), the youth will transition into efforts to encourage everyone to show up to the polls Nov. 6. Following the election, the group will assess their results, and consider responses and further engagement as a group.
"The enthusiasm of youth — their moral compass, their innate desire to make the world a better place — will always be a source of hope for me," Bagnuolo adds. "These young folk deserve our support and encouragement as they make a difference for the good, from Sayville to the world."