News Archive

Staff Members attend National Conference

President of Board of Trustees and Four Staff travel to Indiana

(left to right) Webmaster Dominic F. Santillo, Director David Bagatelle, Political Advisor Matthew Vamvakis
(not pictured President Ted Howarth)

American Legion Boys State
Directors' Conference

Indianapolis, IN
Radisson City Centre Hotel
October 28-30, 2005
Report prepared by Dominic F. Santillo and Matthew Vamvakis

Present from NJ:
Director David S. Bagatelle

Assistant Dean of City Staff / Webmaster Dominic F. Santillo
Political Advisor Matthew Vamvakis
ALJBS President Ted Howarth

This year was the 70th annual conference of the American Legion Boys State programs. The main intention of the Directors' Conference is to share ideas and address common issues that may arise. The program is held each year in Indianapolis, home of American Legion Headquarters.

This year, approximately 42 Boys State programs were represented at the conference. The conference began on Friday with a joint session of the Boys and Girls State programs. Conference Chairman Robert Turner of Georgia and Deputy Director of Americanism/ Children & Youth, Ron Engle made opening remarks. National Judge Advocate Philip B. Onderdonk, Jr. addressed the conference on legal (and potential legal) issues that may arise. Some of his remarks included his recommendation for background checks for all staff members. This caused quite a controversy as he suggested that we "go to our local police" to have this done. Most, if not all Boys State programs indicated that they had not performed background checks.

A member of Norwich University addressed the delegation on Friday regarding possible participation by their cadets in Boys State programs around the US. The Major indicated that a letter to his office would allow his operation to provide a cadet for the week to act as a full time volunteer, but encouraged a quick reply as to not conflict with Norwich cadets' summer military obligations.

On Saturday, we heard from Robert K. Caudell, Assistant Director for Americanism / Children & Youth who spoke on the Samsung Scholarship. Winners were announced two weeks ago on the Legion website ( however, Mr. Caudell mentioned those names again. He also explained some of the changes that the committee decided to make on the application and selection process, mostly dealing with schools that do not rank their students. Mr. Caudell also mentioned that it is highly advisable that we keep all of these scholarship applications on file for the duration of the Statute of Limitations to avoid the potential for lawsuits that may arise.

The Boys Nation President Alexander Arzoumanov and Vice President Quentin James were present at the conference and both spoke elegantly Saturday morning before receiving their $2,500 scholarships. Vice President James was from the State of South Carolina, and President Arzoumanov was from New York, our neighbor to the north. We received our annual report on our Boys Nation delegates, Michael Bzozowski, a Federalist who was Federalist Party Chairman. Eugene Cheval represented NJ as a Nationalist and both of our delegates were in Committee #4 which considered all bills which normally would be assigned to the Judiciary Committee, Rules and Administration Committee, Veterans' Affairs Committee, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Small Business Committee, Select Committee on Ethics, and Special Committee on Aging. Both of our delegates' evaluations from their counselors rated them very high. Upon introduction of the President and Vice President, the opinion was once again raised from the floor that delegates to Boys Nation should be chosen and not voted on by the delegation from each state. Upon further review, the split is very nearly down the middle on states that vote versus select.

Matthew Vamvakis, a member of the Boys Nation staff for a number of years was asked to speak by conference chairman Robert Turner. Matthew spoke on his experience as a delegate to Boys Nation back in 1996 and the effect that it had on his life. Most notably when potential employers "Google" him and find a picture of President Clinton greeting him as a high school junior at the Whitehouse.

Chris Walker of Nevada Boys State gave a presentation on their program's Pre and Post Participation Survey process. A number of years ago they revised their Mission Statement and prioritized the objectives of their program in relation to what the original founder of the Boys State program, Professor Hayes Kennedy, back in 1935 intended. Nevada uses Survey Monkey for the survey and indicated that their process focuses not only on what the delegates learned, but also liked. They were then able to use their statistics for documents such as fundraising materials and as a tool to mold their program both before Boys State and for the following year.

Maggie Van Dyk, President of S.A. Van Dyk insurance (chief supplier of liability insurance for Boys and Girls State programs) spoke about insurance with regard to past incidents and future considerations.

Staff member Ralph Kemp of New Mexico then spoke about an interesting recent development related to funding. Due to the high percentage of former delegates from both the New Mexico Boys and Girls State programs in their Senate and Legislature in the state, a bill was recently passed that gave state money to "New Mexico High School summer civics programs." Legislation passed and from his account, is enacted "in perpetuity." New Mexico Boys and Girls State just received a grant two days before the National Director's conference for a total of $47,500 that will be split evenly. They are assured of this money for the next two years before they need to apply to receive the money again for three more years. The application process was basically a binder that answered the Legislature's questions with excerpts from their Program Manual (schedule). Mr. Kemp also mentioned that in most states, state institutions can be granted to certain programs for a week by the Governor. We'll keep this in mind when Assemblyman Bill Baroni becomes Governor of New Jersey and grants us TCNJ or Rutgers in June 2010.

Breakout sessions:

The main information gathered for the past two years now has been from the "break-out session" on Saturday afternoon. Again, Dominic attended the Technology group session in which four states (Ohio, Missouri, Kansas and West Virginia) shared ways in which they use technology in their programs.

Ohio began with Jim Vaughn who "presented" one of their counselors (that could not make it to the conference) who made a PowerPoint presentation with his voice-over for the bulk of the presentation. One major tool that the delegates are able to use is a software program called "Case Maker" which is actual software that lawyers and judges use. It contains case information for Supreme Court rulings and many major state court rulings. They were not specific on how they used the software, but it is understood that their program focuses more on the judicial system than we do. Buckeye Boys State also utilizes banking software for their Bank and has their newspaper and photos published online during the session. Also, a CD/DVD is sold and used for statewide orientations.

Next, Ryan Hendrickson (Webmaster) and Bruce Dotson (Head of Legislative School) presented a Microsoft Access File that their Legislature used this past year. It allowed them to enter Bills and Legislation via simple forms, including the full text of each, the person sponsoring the bill and other pertinent information. This enabled and began a House Tracking system that had the "calendar" broken down accordingly. Most importantly, for use with Roll Call, via a spreadsheet and with a picture of the Capitol building as a backdrop, tallied the votes and showed how many more votes it needed to pass. A system much like a C-SPAN would use, also factoring in what type of majority was needed for legislation to pass. Mr. Dotson was a member of the Missouri Legislature and had first hand knowledge of such systems. Their goal was to incorporate this Legislative piece into their BASIS web-based election/ contact/ registration/ everything system that they have used for the past two years for elections, online registration, etc.

Thane Chastain from Kansas handed over their presentation to George Rothwell, a brilliant information technologist/ policy analyst/ socio-economic guru. I finally got to see the infamous "Sim Boys State" program nearly in action. For the past four sessions, Kansas has used this system that simulates what might happen with certain policies enacted. For example, each Boys State city's statesmen are assigned jobs at registration, have property (their room is a "lot"), are given a nametag with barcode, have "account balances" for Boys State Bucks and have salaries. When crime is high in a city, affects are simulated to Property Values and the City Council would then most likely hire more police. When they do that, their city budget is affected and perhaps another issue in a neighboring city affects them. It is a very interesting piece of software, in which some pieces can be extrapolated for our use: bar coded nametags, account balances not paper money, role-play or simulation via updated city descriptions/issues throughout the week based on legislation/ ordinances. However for the most part, this piece of software in our opinion takes away some of the basic principles of the Boys State program. For example, not everyone is treated equal - 90% of the delegation is assigned the 'blue' race and 10% to the 'red' race so some "know what it's like as a minority"; differing bank accounts take away from the principle that all are equal and at ALJBS begin with 100 BS bucks ($$$100); assigned jobs equal income which equals account balance, which equals funds to supply their own campaign for positions, not having a job would hinder the process greatly and thus limit the number of people who can run for office. Something to think about, a great piece of software, but in our opinion, not the direction ALJBS is headed towards.

Lastly, Jacob McCarty of West Virginia presented a DVD that was made this past year. Twelve minutes in length, a video production division at West Virginia University approached their program and offered to send cameras around for the week and edit the video - complete with music, "testimonials", and a narrator, they plan on extracting video clips for their website. It is also their DVD yearbook that will be sent out as well as being used for orientations around the state.

All in all, aside from technological ideas related to the use of the website with more multimedia (video), some of the main points that our small delegation will take away from the conference are the lasting images that we leave with our delegates. Most notably, other programs do a better job with their yearbook (and newspaper) - lots of color, lots of pictures and more detailed events that occurred that week - that shapes the future. This is no knock on the job Fred LiCausi, Paul Lasky and others have done in the past, but something we feel will help promote our program more via past delegates and deserves more of a focus from our staff, perhaps even different vendors for these items would rectify the issue and enhance what we send our delegates home with.

originally posted Monday, October 31, 2005