Cheryl Hovorka

Cheryl Hovorka, who works in the Department of Political Science at University of South Dakota also took over as Director of the American Legion Auxiliary South Dakota Girls State; an annual event USD hosts in partnership with ALA since 2001. Before 2001, Girls State was held at Dakota Wesleyan in Mitchell which is where Cheryl had attended. Outside of attending Girls State, Cheryl had no involvement with the program outside of working with the Tabor Unit until its move to USD. Because of her position with the W.O. Farber Center for Civic Leadership in the Department of Political Science; which is the campus host, she is designated as the campus coordinator/liaison between the American Legion Auxiliary and the University, working on both sides of the fence. She works directly with the ALA units in recruiting delegates and helps coordinate with the various agencies on campus to make arrangements.

The American Legion Auxiliary South Dakota Girls State is an intensive week of training in citizenship and government that brings the best girls together from all over the state. To participate, the girls have had to have just finished their junior year of high school or have at least one semester of high school remaining. The program gives delegates an opportunity to learn firsthand about the state and local governments and the importance of public service. They are divided into fourteen mythical cities where they learn about city government and the process of filing petitions and running for city offices such as mayor and city council. After this, they move onto county government where they run for various county offices. They also have the chance to run for the House of Senate and learn the process of creating bills and lobbying for their bills in hopes of getting them passed. After the legislative section, a lot of the delegates become pages in the upcoming SD Legislative session in Pierre. The last phase is state government where they are divided into two political parties, Nationalist and Federalist, and they elect state officials including a Governor. Whoever is elected Governor comes back the following year to help facilitate the session for the week. South Dakota also has a fifteenth city, Journalism City, and to Cheryl’s knowledge they are the only program in the nation that has an actual newspaper. This year, 2018, they had eight journalists who published a daily newspaper, Sacajawea Scroll. Going along with Journalism City, a couple years ago they started a media roundtable luncheon where staff from radio, newspaper, magazine, and television come in and speak with the ALA Girls State journalists about careers and daily operations.

South Dakota has modified the program so that the delegates also participate in judicial and law enforcement activities alongside learning about state and local government and the importance of being involved in their community. This means that all the delegates are required to take either a Law/Judicial class or a Law Enforcement class. The law/judicial class is for the delegates that are interested in becoming a lawyer, circuit court judge, or a supreme court justice. The delegates have to pass the bar exam. This year they had over twenty attorneys and judges who took time out of their busy schedules to work one-on-one with the students to prepare them for the mock trials that took place on Saturday. The delegates also have the chance to serve as jurors or witnesses. The case is an actual South Dakota drug case. The law enforcement class is for the delegates interested in that area. They need to pass an exam and this allows them to be elected as a sheriff or deputy. If they are one of the top three scores in their county then they can be a part of the Forensic Investigation Team. This year the SD Highway Patrol, Clay County Sheriff Department, Vermillion Police Department, and the Yankton Police Department all helped out. “It [Girls State] is a great opportunity for the delegates to learn about state and local government firsthand so they can make a difference.”

Every year there is an American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation which selects two girls from each ALA Girls State to spend a week in Washington, D.C. in July to learn about national government. Cheryl had the privilege of serving on the staff three different times. Cheryl served as office staff, as a counselor, and her third time she was appointed Northwestern Division ALA Girls Nation Chairman. There are six states in this division; SD, ND, MT, WY, MN, and CO. Her primary responsibility as the chairman was to serve as a liaison, to assist with any questions or concerns, and to help plan and facilitate the session.

The process to prepare for each years ALA Girls State is “somewhat of a year round process.” Immediately following the session there are final reports that need to be completed for both the South Dakota American Legion Auxiliary and for the National Organization. The rooms on campus are reserved for the next session.

Later on in the summer, with the help of Tiffany Newman who is Assistant Director, the brochure will be started and then shortly after the first of the year they start contacting speakers/presenters and volunteers. Application packets are then sent out to the ALA units who are responsible for selecting the delegates. After they are chosen, they submit a pre-registration form and from that information Cheryl and Tiffany email them the link to complete the online registration. The parents/guardians receive a link to complete the online health waiver form. Once all of this data is collected Tiffany and Cheryl can start preparation for the week. This includes preparing the manual that is used throughout the week, dividing the delegates into cities, and assigning dorm rooms as well as all the other logistics for the week.

The best part of the whole process for Cheryl is meeting the delegates and watching them grow throughout the week. “We encourage them to go outside their comfort zone and to be involved as they will get out of the program what they put into it. Every year we always say this is the best group of young leaders ever and the next group comes in the following year. We are very proud of our program.” The ALA SD Girls State is considered by the National American Organization as one of the top programs and for the size of South Dakota, they are also considered as one of the larger programs. “The delegates are amazing young ladies and we refer to them as young leaders and not future leaders because they are already leaders in their schools, church, and community.”

Cheryl also works for the American Legion Auxiliary in other ways as well. She is the ALA State Chairman for the Veterans Christmas Party at HSC. Cheryl and her mom are Co-Chairman for the Christmas gift shop for the HSC veterans and their families. Local ALA units and community members donate items and then volunteers assist the veterans in shopping for their family members. The gifts are wrapped and then sent to the families at no cost to the veterans. “I am very fortunate I not only have the opportunity to work with young leaders of tomorrow but I have the opportunity of working directly with the veterans and their families as well.”