“It is the duty of every citizen according to his best capacities to give validity to his convictions in political affairs.” ~ Albert Einstein
When Kevin Wang and Sam Bellavance first met on South Burlington High School’s Scholars’ Bowl team, they had no idea that their self-titled role as “political junkies” would lead to their real role in the Vermont political process. Their story is one of friendship, loyalty, integrity, and giving “validity to [their] convictions.”
While the Scholars’ Bowl offered the two SBHS seniors a chance to test their academic knowledge, their involvement with Child Safe Vermont, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is “to prevent the injuries and deaths of children related to negligent firearm storage through education and legislation” (childsafevt.org), has offered them opportunity for further real-world learning.
Child Safe Vermont was founded in 2010 in memory of Aaron Xue, an Essex High School student whose tragic death by suicide in the previous year was connected to unauthorized firearm access of another teen. On February 1 in Montpelier, Child Safe Vermont will host the Safe Gun Storage Awareness Day at the State House to “raise the state-wide awareness of the problem, promote safe storage practice, and urge Vermont lawmakers to support the passage of safe gun storage legislation” (childsafevt.org). Both Mr. Wang and Mr. Bellavance will participate in the event.
“I’ve always been very interested in how government can help citizens through regulation and how laws are designed to protect people,” explained Mr. Bellavance. “Kevin first told me about Child Safe Vermont, and I was interested.”
As a firearm owner, Mr. Bellavance noted that his family has consistently emphasized firearm safety, including locking up guns. His further experience as a junior counselor at Green Mountain Conservation Camp on Buck Lake in Woodbury offered him an opportunity to teach younger campers about firearm safety: “That experience had a big influence on me. I worked with campers who were twelve to fifteen years old. They were old enough to understand cause and effect, and they were still young enough to see that we were looking out for their safety.”
Working with fellow senior T.J. Anania, Mr. Bellavance has focused on Child Safe Vermont for the Project Citizen portion of his PIWA (Public Issues and World Affairs) class at SBHS: “In our PIWA class, the goal is to do something beneficial in the community, and I found a way to combine my interest in politics and firearm safety.”
Mr. Wang’s involvement with Child Safe Vermont has “always been deeply personal.” As a good friend of Mr. Xue and his family, Mr. Wang “remembers what it felt like that week after Aaron’s death, something I would never want to repeat. I had to speak at the funeral of one of my friends. That’s not something that teenagers should have to do. Then I realized something had to happen.”
For Mr. Wang, that call to action involved his decision to become involved with Child Safe Vermont. “This effort is about saving lives. And it really is just common sense to talk about firearm safety in the same way we talk about seatbelt safety. On the Child Safe Vermont Board we have both gun owners and non-gun owners, yet we all agree on the importance of firearm safety.”
Recognizing the uniqueness of teenagers’ involvement in this process, Mr. Wang noted, “At the Child Safe Vermont meetings, I’m sitting around a table with people who hold doctorates and medical degrees and who know the data behind all this. And I’m offering to post something on Facebook,” he laughed. “But it’s great that the organization is welcoming and that as teens our opinions are valued as much as everyone else’s.”
“The topic of suicide is inherently negative,” continued Mr. Wang. “It’s a hard topic, but we have to be talking about it. The work of Child Safe Vermont is Aaron’s legacy. He died so young, and it was so unfortunate. This work is a way we can honor his memory. It’s something I feel is very important.”
“This is my engagement in the civic process,” he concluded. “Although I don’t think I’ll become a career politician, I have been reading about politics forever, and being involved is so much more rewarding than reading about it. I’ll continue to be involved in politics by fighting for what I believe in. I’ll never lose that.”
SOURCE: Susie Merrick, Contributor