By Valerie Baldowski
Fourteen-year-old Marissa McKee, of McDonough, said she used to be intimidated by the legislature, but after serving as a page, she is now more comfortable around lawmakers.
"We had to go back and forth, [and] it was very intimidating," said McKee. "At first I was nervous, but then you realize they're just people."
McKee, a freshman at Eagle's Landing High School and a four-year 4-H Club member, was one of five local students who participated in the Ninth Annual 4-H Day, held recently at the State Capitol in Atlanta. The teen paged for State Rep. John Lunsford (R-McDonough.)
"The most important thing for me was realizing they [legislators] are everyday people," McKee said. "It brought them back down to earth for me."
McKee said her duties as a page required her to deliver messages back and forth to Lunsford.
The other local participants in the 4-H Day earlier this month were Jada Cato, Ashley Dalba, Maria Gaynier, and Theresa Rochowski. The 4-H'ers represented Henry County during the activities.
McKee said the experience gave her a better perspective on how bills become law, and how legislators interact with others on the House floor.
"I didn't know what went on inside that room, but you get to see up close and personal what their lives are like," she added. "It made it more tangible."
As part of the day's events, participants listened to a speech by Georgia State University Head Football Coach Bill Curry.
The students had the opportunity to page for both the House of Representatives and the Senate, said Heather Kelly Dunning, an agent with the Henry County Extension Service 4-H Club.
Cato and Rochowski paged for State Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur.) In addition to McKee, Gaynier also paged for Lunsford, and Dalba paged for State Rep. Steve Davis (R-McDonough), Dunning said.
Gaynier, a home-schooled student from McDonough, said her initial experience was similar to McKee's.
"In the beginning, it was really scary, but by the end, I learned that anyone can be involved in government," said Gaynier, 16. "It was neat to see how the House ran, and how the legislative process worked."
"Any time you can introduce a student to the political process, it opens up their minds and gives them a different perspective on government," said Jones. "They retain a lot more information when they have an opportunity to gain that hands-on experience."
The event was sponsored by the Department of Community Affairs and the Georgia Rural Development Council. It provided 4-H'ers an opportunity to learn about leadership opportunities offered in their communities, listen to speakers, tour the Capitol, and meet with their representatives, according to Dunning.
The next trip to the Capitol for the 4-H'ers is scheduled for February 2011, she said.