Funding needed for Boys State

Published 8:47 pm Monday, April 13, 2015

Without renewed financial support, American Legion Post No. 57 will be sending far fewer Suffolk boys to an educational program on state and local government.

American Legion posts across Virginia select high school juniors to attend the weeklong Boys State program every year.

It teaches about politics and government, including how the different levels of government operate, the law and court system, and parliamentary procedure.


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“They literally take the boys through the process — electing sheriffs, all the way up to governor,” said Denis Confer, co-chair of the program in Suffolk and Post No. 57’s treasurer. “They really learn what it takes to run a state and local government.”

The program started in the 1930s, took a brief hiatus then returned in the 1940s, according to Confer. “Here in Suffolk, we have been sending boys since the late 1940s,” he added.

The goal has always been to send 14 Suffolk boys, Confer said, adding the city’s Ruritan clubs have traditionally supported the effort.

But with the clubs finding it harder to foot the rising cost amid shrinking membership, Suffolk’s annual Boys State contingent is at risk of ceasing, he said.

While five years ago it cost about $300 to send one boy, today that cost has increased to $525, Confer said.

The 14 students include four each from the public high schools and two from Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, with the total cost adding up to almost $7,500.

This year, the combined Ruritan clubs have given $2,500, Confer said, adding, “I’m really short.”

In recent years, the Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club and Elks Lodge have helped out, Confer said. But that support is not consistent.

“It’s a real challenge, and it’s just unfortunate,” Confer said. “The writing is on the wall: Unless I can find other funding streams for the program, it’s going to cease to exist.”

Confer said he hopes individuals who have attended Boys State and benefited might step up.

He said he spent $1,500 of his own money two years ago but can’t continue doing that.

“We will send boys this year, we just won’t sent 14,” Confer said. “With the dollars we have right now, we will probably be sending six boys.”

The program’s biggest benefit is teaching boys about the potential for them to enter politics, Confer said.

From the 800-odd who attend to the state program, one boy and one alternate are selected to attend Boys Nation in Washington, where they learn about the federal system.

Confer invited anyone who may be able to help to call him at 403-4261.