Sydney Ward, 17, of Salem, Utah, a senior at Salem Hills High School, works to mobilize young people in her community to become better informed about issues affecting their lives and more engaged in local politics by staging mock elections, organizing town hall meetings with local and state representatives, and spearheading voter registration drives at high schools. When Sydney was 13, her mother took her to a political convention to nominate county and state candidates. She spent most of her day there handing out fliers in support of their candidate and collecting political T-shirts. “I realized then and there that I wanted to have my own voice heard in that process,” Sydney said.
On the day before Election Day 2016, Sydney, with the help of her history teacher, organized a mock election at her school that drew participation from 75 percent of the student body. The ensuing conversations fueled her desire to do more. So in 2019, she founded “Project 320” to encourage young people to get involved in the political process. As executive director, Sydney spends roughly 30 hours a week planning social media campaigns, posting candidate platforms on a website, coordinating events with local officials, recruiting volunteers, writing grant applications and securing support from the community. To increase young people’s awareness of governmental issues and the political process, her group has hosted a series of town hall meetings to bring students and elected officials together. At one of her meetings, 100 students heard their state representatives talk about upcoming bills that affect them. “After the event, many students said they had no idea state government had such an influence on their lives,” she said.