Pro-Life Youth Academy Training the Next Generation of Leaders

National   |   Andrew Bair   |   Dec 10, 2012   |   4:03PM   |   Washington, DC

As we look back on 40 years since the tragic Roe v. Wade decision, the pro-life movement can be proud of 40 years of diligent, dedicated service to the cause of restoring legal protection to our society’s most innocent and vulnerable. We have made considerable progress but there is more work to be done. We have great hope in the future as young pro-life leaders step up to guide the movement through its next chapter.

As evidenced by the youth presence at the annual March for Life and the growth of pro-life student groups on college campuses, it’s clear our generation cares deeply about protecting life. With its Academy program, National Right to Life is harnessing that enthusiasm and training college students to become even more effective advocates for the unborn on their campuses and in their communities. Young people are not only pro-life leaders of the future; they are leaders today!

The National Right to Life Academy is a five-week educational program held in Washington, D.C. every summer for college students. At the Academy, students receive a thorough education from some of the movement’s foremost leaders on a range of pro-life issues including abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research and healthcare rationing. In addition to traditional lecture classes, students benefit from hands-on segments where they have to make the pro-life case to a NRLC staff member who is role-playing the opposition’s view.

Not only does the National Right to Life Academy offer pro-life information, it trains students in effective communication. Students receive training in speech, media relations and using social media for the pro-life cause.

Each summer, the students also attend the National Right to Life Convention, where they hear from pro-life leaders from across the county. Students have had the opportunity to visit Capitol Hill and meet with Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), co-chairman of the House Pro-Life Caucus.

Having attended the Academy myself in the summer of 2009, I benefited greatly from the program. It transformed me from a college student concerned about pro-life issues into a young pro-life leader with the know-how to effectively articulate the pro-life message. To this day, I continue to draw from the education I received at the Academy.

The fruits of the National Right to Life Academy are apparent. Graduates of the program are using their gifts and talents to advance the movement on their campuses, in their local right-to-life groups, at pregnancy resource centers and in their local communities.

Here is a glimpse in what just a handful of these young leaders are doing to advance the pro-life cause.

Matt Hanafin, a graduate from Burlington, Massachusetts, is a board member of Massachusetts Citizens for Life and worked on the successful “No on Question 2” campaign to defeat doctor-prescribed suicide on the ballot in the Bay State this past election. Matt called in to radio shows, wrote letters to the editor and used social media to inform voters about the dangers of the ballot initiative.

Ann Conant, a graduate from New Jersey, worked on the effort to retain pro-life Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in the recall election in June. She spent the 2012 election cycle working with American Majority Action’s “Fire Obama” campaign in Wisconsin. She currently works for the March for Life fund.

Rachel (Barga) Simpson, a graduate from Minster, Ohio, worked diligently to educate voters in the Cincinnati area during the 2012 elections. She helped distribute thousands of comparison pieces on the candidates’ abortion positions. While in college at Miami University of Ohio, Rachel led her Students for Life group.

Erin Karlovich, a graduate from Michigan, returned to National Right to Life this past summer to help lead the program. She recently accepted a position at North Carolina Right to Life and has blogged about how to defend life against euthanasia rhetoric.

Lacey Dent, a graduate from West Virginia, is a board member of West Virginians for Life. She serves as the chapter president for Tucker County for Right to Life and has spoken at several statewide conventions held by West Virginians for Life.

John Seago, a graduate from Texas, is currently the Legislative Director for Texas Right to Life. Reflecting on his time at the Academy, John said, “The lectures and practicum were most valuable. They both ensured that we studied, knew, and reviewed the important arguments and material, and helped us gain effective speaking strategies and ease in lobbying, debating, and speaking in general.”

Sarah Urdzik and Christina Geradts, graduates from North Carolina, have been active leaders of the Carolina Students for Life at UNC-Chapel Hill. Among the group’s many achievements, it recently established a Parenting Student Assistance Fund to aid young mothers seeking to raise their children in addition to furthering their education.

Hannah Trice, a graduate from Little Rock, Arkansas, currently works at Arkansas Right to Life where she has done outreach to young people including organizing pro-life camps for teens and promoting pro-life essay and oratory contests.

Chelsea Shields, a graduate from Kenosha, Wisconsin, serves as the Milwaukee Regional Vice Chair for the Wisconsin Federation of College Republicans. She volunteers for Pregnancy Helpline of Janesville. During the 2012 election cycle, she interned for the Romney campaign.

Andrew and Natalie (Fohl) Votipka met at the National Right to Life Academy in the summer of 2010 and recently got married! Natalie currently works for New York State Right to Life and Andrew has volunteered for the organization helping with various projects including Camp Esther, an outreach to young people.

Rachel Schumacher, a graduate from Madison, Wisconsin, currently runs Madison Students for Life at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and helps with pro-life camps for teenagers with Wisconsin Teens for Life.

Tristen Cramer, a graduate originally from Wyoming, recently graduated from Regent University School of Law and passed the Virginia bar exam in June. She intends to use her legal career to advance the pro-life cause.

Devyn Nelson, a graduate from Fargo, North Dakota, serves as the Outreach Director for North Dakota Right to Life. Devyn said, “The National Right to Life Academy served me well in preparing me for this position. Not only did the Academy give me a thorough understanding of all the life issues, it helped me become comfortable and confident in speaking the truth about the life issues in public.”

Heather Wilson, a graduate from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, currently works for the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation as its Southeast Regional Coordinator. Heather actively works to build pro-life chapters in the Philadelphia area. After the Academy she said, “I feel much more confident that I can educate, influence and God-willing perhaps even change the hearts of people who are placed in my life as I share what I have learned this summer.”

Abigail Kiehl, a graduate from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, currently leads a faith-based ministry for post-abortive women in her hometown and worked for the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation as a clerical assistant.

Eileen Crosby, a graduate originally from Minnesota, currently works as a social worker in Steubenville, Ohio. Eileen brings her respect for life into her daily work caring for the needs of the sick and elderly. She also aided in 2012 election efforts in the key swing state of Ohio.

Mary Neven Brockway, a graduate from Michigan, has since interned at the Leadership Institute and will soon work for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank based in Washington, DC.



Veronica Arnold, a graduate from Texas, currently serves as a Legislative Associate at Texas Right to Life. At the end of her summer at the Academy, Veronica said, “After the Academy I can’t escape the feeling that I am now obligated to do all that I can to protect the dignity of life – because now I know what to do. I am so grateful for the knowledge and the skills I have been given.”

Often, young people are described as future leaders of the pro-life movement. That isn’t entirely accurate. Young people are current leaders in the pro-life movement. Empowered by a first-rate education at the National Right to Life Academy, young pro-life leaders are making a difference.

National Right to Life is currently accepting applications for the 2013 Academy. If you know a pro-life college student leader, encourage him or her to apply. With 2013 marking 40 years since Roe, now is not the time for our generation to sit on the sidelines.