ONTARIO — Abe Moll and Sean Clancy will graduate from Williamson High School next month and embark on a new journey that will take them through college and on to the rest of their lives. These next few months won’t mark the first time the teens have ventured out of their comfort zones in the hopes of trying new things and making a difference, however.
Moll and Clancy, both 18, have made three pilgrimages to Albany to lobby their political representatives about a host of issues of concern to diocesan Catholics. Carol May, the teens’ youth minister at St. Mary of the Lake Parish in Ontario, encouraged Moll and Clancy to consider traveling to Albany for the New York State Catholic Conference’s Public Policy Day in 2005, when they were sophomores.
Neither Moll nor Clancy had much experience in politics at the time, but they were both eager to learn and readily agreed to join the busload of Catholics traveling to the state capital.
“I was interested in politics at the time and I just kind of wanted to see what it was all about,” said Moll, who plans to study natural resources at Cornell University next fall.
“I wanted to see how the decisions were made and how things are run down in Albany,” added Clancy, who plans to study liberal arts and geoscience next year at Monroe Community College.
After familiarizing themselves with the issues the state Catholic conference was focusing on that year, including stem-cell research and education tax credits, Moll, Clancy and May joined their fellow pilgrims and boarded a bus bound for Albany. When they got there, they visited the offices of local legislators and told them about the church’s position on those topics.
At first, Moll and Clancy were intimidated by the politicians, whom they’d never met and only had seen on television and in political advertisements. It felt strange for the teens to be addressing people who were so well-known and powerful, Clancy said.
“They’re very high up there,” he said.
“And we’re just a couple of kids,” Moll added.
Some politicians weren’t able to meet personally with them and instead sent their aides to meet with the local delegation. Clancy and Moll were impressed by the way some of the other politicians took time from their busy schedules to meet with them and really listen to their concerns.
“We learned a lot about their character in those few minutes,” Moll said.
The teens and their fellow lobbyists were only able to spend a short time with each politician because they had so many senators and assemblymen to meet with that day, he added.
“It was a very rapid-fire pace. It was boom, boom, boom, boom,” he said. “We got a real cross-section of the different politicians in Albany.”
By the time they boarded the bus back to the Finger Lakes region that night, Clancy and Moll knew they wanted to go back and participate in Public Policy Day again the next year. Before that day, they’d never really thought teenagers could have much effect on public policy.
“I used to think that was way beyond me,” Clancy said.
“I used to think, ‘Oh, normal people don’t go talk to politicians. They’re in a different class,'” Moll added. “It made me realize how much people can make a difference if they go and talk to a person and convey their thoughts in a coherent manner.”
Clancy and Moll participated in the 2006 and 2007 Public Policy Day events, and noticed that as time went on they felt more and more at ease when they met with their legislators.
“After that first meeting with them, we kind of knew what kind of people they were, and that made it easier to talk to them,” Clancy said.
Meeting with their legislators helped Clancy and Moll learn the importance of being prepared. They attended informational sessions and met with local experts, such as diocesan life-issues coordinator Jann Armantrout, before going to Albany and learned more about such issues as stem-cell research, education tax credits, the Rockefeller drug laws and Timothy’s Law. It’s important for lobbyists to be armed with facts, Clancy said.
“You have to leave the emotions behind,” he said.
“Don’t go in there and get all emotional,” Moll agreed. “Politicians get turned off by that. The best thing to do is go in there and be honest, straightforward and informed.”
Both Moll and Clancy said they would encourage other teens to attend Public Policy Day. Clancy said the experience helped him learn more about his legislative representatives and the way politics work in New York, and his personal interactions with legislators will guide his actions in the voting booth in upcoming years.
“It’s good to get to know your representatives by looking them in the eye and making your point to them,” Moll said. “Get involved, because you can make a difference.”