Welcome to UNICEF USA!
Stay informed on UNICEF's work saving and protecting children around the world
A presidential election in the middle of a pandemic did not keep people across the country from turning out to vote in record numbers. Equally as inspiring was the number of teenagers, not yet of voting age, who helped get out the vote, either by sharing the link to the UNICEF USA Civic Action Center on their social channels, encouraging their community to vote, or volunteering on Election Day. This level of commitment and enthusiasm was especially evident in Newtown, Connecticut, where a group of 15- to 17-year- olds came out in droves to volunteer as poll workers.
Teenagers too young to vote are still eager to get involved in the political process; they know that policy choices can be a matter of life or death
Many of these Newtown youth are former Sandy Hook Elementary School students who were fourth and fifth graders at the time of the 2012 school shooting. They experienced trauma as a community, grieved together, and as 22-year-old Courtney DeMeglio, a UNICEF USA National Council Member from Newtown, describes it, “grew up in what often felt like the center of a political debate.”
These students were raised with the understanding that the decisions of policymakers have real impact on their lives. From an early age, they have been committed to making their voices heard even before they themselves were eligible to vote. For Courtney, there was no question whether or not she would volunteer at the polls,. She felt it was her duty to help others exercise their right to vote during the pandemic. “That’s the kind of community we are,” she says.
For everyone here, voting is about making sure the children of this town have a future, making sure they are put first. — Courtney DeMeglio, 22
She underwent the necessary training, asked her school for permission to miss classes that day, and showed up at the polling location promptly at 5 am to begin volunteering. What she did not expect was the “gigantic line already out front.” Courtney thinks the reason why so many young people in Newtown were passionate about casting their ballot and were keen to help others do so is because “they were in the shooting or knew someone that was.”
“This is so much bigger than red or blue. It’s about the issues. For everyone here, voting is about making sure the children of this town have a future, making sure they are put first,” she says. Another thing that surprised her was that “most of the poll workers there were in high school.” Teenagers assisted voters at various checkpoints, checked ID’s and handed out “I Voted” stickers.
I wanted to work the polls because I feel as though it's really important for young people to get involved... A lot, if not all, of these decisions have a great impact on us. — Ariana, 17
Ariana, a 17-year-old from Newtown who also volunteered as a poll worker, felt that she had an obligation to participate somehow. “I wanted to work the polls because I feel as though it's really important for young people to get involved and to keep up with current events and what's going on around us. A lot, if not all, of these decisions have a great impact on us.”
Visit UNICEF USA's Advocacy Center to find out how you can speak out to support children's rights
After helping others vote in the 2020 election, the many young people who volunteered at the polls look forward to voting for the first time themselves in the next election. In the meantime, they will continue to advocate for the issues they care about and make their voices heard.
Whether you are a young person or an activist of any age, check out our Advocacy Action Center for opportunities to write your Members of Congress is support of the world’s children.