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A group of home school students from Sequim and Port Angeles are defying teenage stereotypes by getting involved in local politics. Above, part of the group gathers in front of Dungeness Community Church during a break from classes with Christian Homeschool Organization of Sequim (CHOOSE) on Oct. 8. (from top left) Steven Berneking, 16, Andrew Finman, 15, Jeremy Fodge, 17, (center) Heather Vereide, 17, Katie Fritz, 17, (from bottom left) Alicia Little, 16, Brittany Vereide, 16, Janessa Fodge, 15, Elizabeth Berneking, 18, and Hannah Fritz, 14. Sequim Gazette photo by Amanda Winters
"Do you believe in absolute truth, and if so, where does it come from?"
It was a simple, straight-to-the point question Elizabeth Berneking, 18, of Sequim, asked the Clallam County Prosecutor candidates. But it got the attention of hundreds of people sitting inside the
Sequim Boys & Girls Club gym at a Sept. 27 debate. People turned around in their seats to look at the small group of home school students sitting on the bleachers in the back.
Over the course of the 2010 primary and general election season, about 30 home school students have campaigned for political candidates in state and federal elections, attended debates and candidate forums and organized their own campaign events.
They have no established organizational structure, no name other than "the home-schoolers" and most are not even old enough to vote in November's election. But this group is making a statement nevertheless.
Campaigning for Young
Jesse Young, a Republican congressional candidate from Gig Harbor who lost the primary election to Republican Doug Cloud, said he first met the group at a Concerned Citizens of Clallam County (Four C's) event.
"They're different," he said of the students. "They're not in it because they have some political agenda to get themselves a future job or they're supporting the same old candidate. They actually care about where the country is going."
Young said he was asked the same question regarding absolute truth and was struck by the way it got right to the heart of an issue.
"You can't powder up that question without sounding like you're avoiding it or sounding very political," he said. "I loved that question. There should be more questions like that."
Young said he was impressed by the genuine concern the students had for the future of the country and the initiative they took to get involved.
Jeremy Fodge, 17, of Agnew, co-chaired Young's campaign in Clallam County over the summer and helped organize grass-roots efforts in Clallam and Jefferson counties.
'A renewed respect'
Fodge said his interest in politics stemmed from reading the Constitution and political history books as part of his home school curriculum. At the beginning of the summer he went to Teen Pact, a four-day Christian leadership class that encourages teen involvement in public policy, society and citizenship.
"I got a renewed respect for the government system and the thought that was put into it," he said.
Fodge said people have a view of teenagers as being lazy, uninvolved and uninterested. But the student group is dedicated to their country and wants to see people be more civic-minded, he said.
Katie Fritz, 17, of Sequim, attended Teen Pact with Fodge and several other home-schoolers, she said.
"We came back and heard about Four C's and we all really wanted to get involved in local politics so we thought it would be a good place to start," she said.
Waving signs, encouraging votes
Katie Fritz and her sister Hannah Fritz, 14, both campaigned for Jesse Young and are now working with the campaigns of Dan Gase, a Port Angeles Republican running for Washington State 24th Legislative District Position 1; Doug Cloud, a Republican running against Democrat Rep. Norm Dicks for Congress; and Republican Dino Rossi, who is challenging Sen. Patty Murray, Democrat.
Katie Fritz said they have distributed signs, waved with campaign signs and organized car wash fund raisers.
"Even though some of us aren't old enough to vote, it makes a big statement that we are still concerned and can make a point and do things that aren't expected of our generation," Katie Fritz said.
Heather Vereide, 17, of Sequim, said people have been mostly receptive to seeing the group waving campaign signs or otherwise affiliating themselves with local politics.
Andrew Finman, 15, of Sequim, said the only negative responses he received were during campaign phone calls he made on behalf of candidates.
"Someone got mad and said he wanted all the Republicans to leave," he said.
Finman said his involvement stemmed from hearing a man on the radio complain about people in office when he hadn't even voted. Finman said he was surprised to find out how many people didn't care about voting or wanted to stay out of the political process.
"The only way to stop people from getting into office is to vote," he said. "Even though a lot of us can't vote, we can encourage others to vote," Vereide added.
Young said the encouragement to get involved is the most important part. Often people don't even take the time to look at a candidate's website and just vote based on name recognition or don't vote at all, he said. This group of students waving signs or organizing car washes for candidates can encourage people to find out more about the candidate, he said.
After it's over
The "home-schoolers" don't have any plans for the future or past the November election, but their interest is sparked and their resolve is strong.
"We want people to realize they have power and they can get involved," Vereide said.
Fodge said he thinks grass-roots efforts involving teens are gaining momentum and people are noticing.
"It might not be a large impact but there will be an impact," Fodge said.
Reach Amanda Winters at firstname.lastname@example.org.