Capitol Hill Day

#MPT15 Capitol Hill Day
Wednesday, April 8

There are 76 million youth in America. Many of them are making real-world change to some of today’s toughest challenges. When given the opportunity, they are true leaders in their schools and communities. At NYLC, we see 76 million youth as 76 million solutions. We want policy makers to see youth as solutions; to hear about the positive outcomes as well as the challenges youth are facing; and to see that when youth have a seat at the table, they are engaged community members who are ready to lead meaningful change.

To that end, NYLC is encouraging attendees to make a trip to Capitol Hill to meet with legislators, taking the opportunity to advocate and educate for youth as solutions and as contributors in communities across the country. NYLC will provide support for a Capitol Hill Day to give policy-makers the opportunity to engage in real conversation with the next generation of voters and hear what their constituents and youth from around the globe are accomplishing in their local communities. The goal of the event is to have hundreds of youth advocates speaking with one powerful voice on Capitol Hill.

NYLC will support Capitol Hill Day participants with materials, resources, and webinars to help secure meetings, prepare for your visit, how to make the most of your time with your member of Congress, and best practices for after your visit.

Join the conversation on the GSN. Find useful documents in the Hill Day Folder and particpate in the discussion group called “Unstoppable Citizen Lobby Brigade (a.k.a. Hill Day)” where you can ask questions to the group, discuss success stories, or needed improvements, and share resources.

Capitol Hill Day is included in conference registration. Preregistration requested, no additional fees apply. Meals are not provided.

Below you will find information to ensure a successful Hill Day on Wednesday, April 8, 2015.  However, there is always more to learn, so we have provided links to additional information and resources if you want to delve deeper.

» Purpose of Capitol Hill Day
» Scheduling a Meeting
» The Specific “Ask”
» Being a Resource
» What to Expect when Visiting Capitol Hill, Congressional Offices
» After Your Visit
» Additional Resources, Background, History on Service-Learning and Civic Learning
» Background and Additional Information on the Legislative Asks

Purpose of Capitol Hill Day
Meaning and connection to NYLC and the National Service-Learning Conference 
The First Amendment to the Constitution, as included in the Bill of Rights, guarantees free speech.  It also guarantees the right of citizens to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.”  This is a very important part of the civic process because it allows people the right to join together and seek change from the government.

For the past 26 years, NYLC has convened the National Service-Learning Conference, and hosting it in Washington D.C. allows for greater visibility of what young people across the world are doing to Serve. Learn. Change the world®.

Our goal is to educate Members of Congress and their staff about the need for young people themselves to be taken seriously – as true stakeholders in our schools and communities. Capitol Hill Day provides an opportunity for youth and adults to share how they are addressing real challenges while also achieving success in school through service-learning, and importantly, to give lawmakers a chance to engage in real conversation with the next generation of voters who are already actively contributing as citizens in service to others, today.

By the way, what is Capitol Hill?
This is a term used to both describe a geographic area of Washington D.C.– the largest historic residential neighborhood in the city - that actually is on a hill, as well as a catch-all phrase for where the United States Capitol, Senate and House Office Buildings, Supreme Court, and Library of Congress all stand.  So, it is often used as short-hand reference for where Congress does its work, and where constituents and interested groups come for meetings, visits, and hearings, etc.

Scheduling a Meeting
Each office has a different system for scheduling meetings. Visit the following websites to find your representatives by state, community, and issue:

Find information on booking a meeting with your representative through these websites. Most will have meeting request forms to fill out online, or numbers to call.

Before making your initial phone call or email to request a meeting, make sure you have:

  • at least two times in mind for a meeting on April 8;
  • a list of constituents attending the meeting, and where they live;
  • why you want to meet, and
  • the issue you’d like to discuss.

After filing your formal meeting request, the key to successfully scheduling a meeting is follow-up. Ask the scheduler or staffer when you can follow up. Most schedules are not made up more than one week in advance. You will be successful if you are persistent and friendly.

The Specific “Ask”
While it is a great experience to simply meet and visit with elected officials while you are in Washington D.C., it is wise to not waste your time or theirs, by simply having a nice chat.  There is an expectation that if you are meeting with a Congressional office, you are there to share specific knowledge you have that can be an asset to the Member, and/or to ask for their help or support in a respectful way, on an issue or bill that they can actually affect.  In other words, while Members of Congress do have a lot of influence and know many people, it is best to focus any requests on federal issues, as opposed to local issues, or challenges that are outside of the federal government.

Being a Resource
The first ask is to allow you to become a resource for your Members of Congress and their staff.  It might surprise you to know that not every Member of Congress has young people who serve on an advisory council or who are available to answer questions or give perspective on issues.  In fact, not every Member may want or feel they need that kind of support.  However, after succinctly sharing your story about who you are and what you’re doing to effect change at home, we want you to offer to be a resource to them. 

You may also be surprised at how many people visit Capitol Hill every day only ask for help and never think to offer their insight and networks to help.  Even if they don’t take you up on it, by being prepared and professional, and offering to be a resource for youth input on issues, 1it’s a great way to make sure that offices take you seriously and know that you want to build a positive relationship with them. 

What to Expect when Visiting Capitol Hill, Congressional Offices

  • The best advice for a successful day on Capitol Hill?  Be patient, flexible, and have a positive attitude – it goes a long way!  Oh, and wear smart but comfortable shoes.
  • Getting to Congressional offices
    • Review this map of Capitol Hill ahead of time to become familiar with the area as well as the location of your Member of Congress’ building.

      » Download U.S. Capitol Map
  • Arrival at the Member’s Office
    • It is best if you can arrive a few minutes before your scheduled meeting time, as Members and their staff are very busy and you don’t want them to wait for you.  Everyone must go through security lines at the entrance to each building (like the scanning machines at the airport with similar prohibited items, although you shouldn’t need to take your shoes off), so be sure to take that time into account.  As part of security, you are not allowed to bring in beverages, and no bags larger than 18” wide x 14” high x 8.5” deep.
    • Of course, since Members and staff are very busy, they may be running a bit behind schedule and you may need to wait for them.  Many offices are not very big so their waiting areas can sometimes get crowded.  If you have a large group, it may be easiest to have the team captain or a representative wait inside, while the rest of the group waits in the hallway.  Either way, keep in mind that this is still a place of work, so if you do talk, please be respectful – keep your voices low and distractions to a minimum.
    • Even if you have a large group, the Member or his/her staff may not have a lot of time, so be sure to have your talking points rehearsed and ready so you can make your case quickly and succinctly up front, and share your leave-behind folder and materials.  The team captain should thank the Member and/or staff representative for agreeing to the meeting; ensure everyone is introduced; and share that you’re in Washington D.C. and on Capitol Hill because you are participating in the National Service-Learning Conference, part of a broader movement to value youth as true stakeholders in addressing real issues today.
    • As time allows, you can elaborate on the points you made, and hopefully, give every person in the group an opportunity to speak.  Remember that this is a conversation, so before you do all of the talking, don’t forget to engage the person you’re meeting with.  It is likely you will be meeting with Congressional staff.  If so, you could ask them to tell you more about their role in the office, if they’re from your state, or what made them want to work on Capitol Hill.  Be sure to ask if they have any questions for you, and of course, if they can be an advocate for you and your issues with the Representative or Senator.  
    • The team captain can summarize any next steps from the meeting, and thank the Member or staff for their time and attention on behalf of the whole group.  If you want to take a photo at the end of the meeting, be sure to ask politely and be gracious if they don’t have time to do so. 
  • Keep in Mind…
    If you don’t know the answer to a question that you’re asked, that’s okay.  It’s best to simply say, “I’m not sure, but let me find the answer for you and get back to you.”  But then, be sure to do just that!   
    There is another NYLC – the National Young Leaders’ Conference.  Both of these organizations began around 30 years ago and have long ago worked out the branding issues so both groups can use NYLC as an acronym.  However, it may be confusing to Congressional staff.  If you are asked the question, it may help to differentiate by sharing that the National Youth Leadership Council is about engaging ALL youth as leaders, and we are here to share what we are doing as part of the solution to real problems in our own communities. 

After Your Visit

  • Send a personalized thank you to your Member of Congress and any staff members you met with.  Include a photo from your visit and/or the Conference if possible.
  • Be sure to provide any follow-up information they requested or you offered during your visit
  • Reiterate the invitation to visit and view your project/activities in your school/community.
  • Write a letter to your school board, newspaper, editor, etc. with highlights of your visit, what you learned, and what you were advocating for.

Additional Resources, Background, History on Service-Learning and Civic Learning
» Read more about the background on service-learning
» Read more about Learn and Serve America’s 15th Anniversary

See Last Year's Capitol Hill Day Experience