Once and Future (Kid) Governors: A Q&A with Charlie Olsen and Charlotte Cotti

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New Hampshire’s Kid Governor program is part of a national, award-winning civics initiative created by the Connecticut Democracy Center 

Led by New Hampshire Civics and the New Hampshire Institute of Politics here in the Granite State, the program gives fifth-graders first-hand experience with government — through campaigning, elections, and voting. 

Candidates create campaign videos and a three-point platform to address issues they care about. Those who win the statewide election serve a one-year term around leadership and advocacy work for their program. 

This week, The State We’re In host Melanie Plenda is catching up with 2021 Kid Governor Charlie Olsen of Auburn and newly-elected 2022 Kid Governor Charlotte Cotti of Plaistow. 

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Charlie Olsen, left, and Charlotte Cotti.

This content has been edited for length and clarity. Watch the full interview on NH PBS’s The State We’re In.

Melanie Plenda: Charlie, I’ll start with you and then Charlotte. Please tell us about your platforms, why you chose them, and why you ran for Kid Governor last year. 

Charlie Olsen: In mid-March 2020, that’s when COVID first started and we were all locked down, and I was diagnosed with situational depression. Fast forward to the middle of fifth grade in Language Arts class, we had to write about personal narrative and I chose to write about mental health and my experiences with depression. At the same time, in Social Studies, the Kid Governor program was being introduced. I had to choose a platform and I chose mental health because I was already writing about mental health in my personal narrative. Why not write about and advocate for it at the same time? I knew that if I felt this way, there must be other people that feel this way, and I can help them grow from it. 

Charlotte Cotti: I have no personal experience with homelessness, but I know that there are people out there suffering. I think it’s terrible that people have to live on the streets or be cold or have to sleep in public bathrooms. I feel that there has to be a change made, so that’s why I chose to run for homelessness.

I’m going to talk to people who have experienced or have been affected by homelessness because some people don’t know the effects that homelessness is having on people. I think that’s a great first step so they can participate, and I’m collecting basic necessities for people who don’t have access to them. We’ll be having a sock drive that was on one of my executive council’s platforms.

Melanie Plenda: Charlie, how did the year go for you? What were some of the highlights, and did you have a favorite part?

Charlie Olsen: It was really great. I got to work with so many people. I got to work with Connor’s Climb, NAMI, Choose Love, and many others. I got to kick off the Connor’s Climb 5k this summer; I was a keynote speaker for the National Alliance of Mental Illness conference this summer and got to speak to mental health professionals and the directors at YMCAs across New Hampshire; I spoke to the New Hampshire Association of School Superintendents and principals across the country. In October, I worked with the Choose Love foundation and we toured across the state for the Choose Love Bus Tour, and it was tons of fun. We got to stay at the Mountain View Grand Hotel as one of our stops and spent the night there. The next morning I think we went to Littleton, but I’m not sure. I got to meet some amazing people and made some amazing friends.

Melanie Plenda: What did you learn through your experience? Do you have any advice for Charlotte as she gets started?

Charlie Olsen: One thing I learned is you’ll make lots of connections with people and they can help you advocate for your cause. I’ve also learned that being the governor means you’re the bridge that helps the people get across to the help that they need. I’ve also learned when writing speeches that you have to talk about the ups and downs and the solution to the problem. Most importantly, you need to have fun. By telling a good story, it makes people think about what you’re saying and helps spread the message.

Melanie Plenda: Charlotte, what advice would you give to students who might be thinking about running for Kid Governor leader this year?

Charlotte Cotti: When I was running for kid governor, I would practice my speeches on my friends and they would give me feedback. It really helped with how my speeches came out. When I was trying to think of my three point platform, I was thinking of realistic ideas, something people would want to participate in.

Melanie Plenda: I know you mentioned a sock drive, but do you have any special events related to your platform coming up that you’d like to mention?

Charlotte Cotti: I’m going to do a toy drive because some kids don’t have toys. I have toys and I love them, and I want other kids to have the same experience. I’m also going to collect things like hand sanitizer, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, and conditioner so people can have things that are very necessary.

Melanie Plenda: We know a little bit about your platform, but what about after the Kid Governor program? What are some of your future plans? What do you want to do?

Charlotte Cotti: I really like drawing and I really like reading, so I might publish a book someday. I’m definitely going to go to college. I don’t know what for yet, but I haven’t really thought out what I’m going to do in my future.

GSNC 2 ColorThese articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

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