'Birthday Boxes' encourage Naperville 18-year-olds to vote

 
 
Updated 1/17/2018 6:08 PM
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  • Members of the League of Women Voters of Naperville make Birthday Boxes Wednesday to educate 18-year-olds about voting. Annette Smith, Peggy Heilig, Leslie Hayward and Susan Craighead assemble and fill the boxes with personalized letters, nonpartisan voter information and candy.

      Members of the League of Women Voters of Naperville make Birthday Boxes Wednesday to educate 18-year-olds about voting. Annette Smith, Peggy Heilig, Leslie Hayward and Susan Craighead assemble and fill the boxes with personalized letters, nonpartisan voter information and candy. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Leslie Hayward of the League of Women Voters of Naperville, along with 10 other women, spent part of Wednesday afternoon filling over Birthday Boxes for high school students who are turning 18 and taking a government class at Metea Valley and Waubonsie Valley High Schools. The boxes are designed to get high schoolers interested in voting.

      Leslie Hayward of the League of Women Voters of Naperville, along with 10 other women, spent part of Wednesday afternoon filling over Birthday Boxes for high school students who are turning 18 and taking a government class at Metea Valley and Waubonsie Valley High Schools. The boxes are designed to get high schoolers interested in voting. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Annette Smith, voter services chairwoman for the League of Women Voters of Naperville, helps coordinate a team to assemble Birthday Boxes for students who are turning 18, in an effort to get high schoolers interested in voting.

      Annette Smith, voter services chairwoman for the League of Women Voters of Naperville, helps coordinate a team to assemble Birthday Boxes for students who are turning 18, in an effort to get high schoolers interested in voting. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • The League of Women Voters of Naperville aims to educate newly eligible voters by giving Birthday Boxes to students who are turning 18 containing nonpartisan voting information, candy and personal notes of encouragement.

      The League of Women Voters of Naperville aims to educate newly eligible voters by giving Birthday Boxes to students who are turning 18 containing nonpartisan voting information, candy and personal notes of encouragement. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Susan Craighead of the League of Women Voters of Naperville stacks Birthday Boxes for high school students who are turning 18 as she and other club members assemble the gifts that are designed to get teens excited about voting.

      Susan Craighead of the League of Women Voters of Naperville stacks Birthday Boxes for high school students who are turning 18 as she and other club members assemble the gifts that are designed to get teens excited about voting. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

"Happy birthday! Go vote."

It's the message one Naperville organization wants teens to get when they're eligible to cast ballots, so the League of Women Voters is delivering it through gifts.

League members gathered Wednesday to prepare Birthday Boxes for students in government classes at Metea Valley and Waubonsie Valley high schools who are turning 18 in time for this November's general election.

The boxes contain nonpartisan information about registering to vote, searching for reliable information about candidates, voting by mail while in college, forming opinions in a democracy and why voting is important.

Along with the handouts, each box contains pencils, mints and Tootsie Rolls in patriotic wrappers, a business card for the League of Women Voters' VOTE411 website, and a letter from a fellow voter.

"It seems like such a personal way to be reaching out to these kids," said league member Susan Craighead, one of many volunteers who helped write a letter for each of the 216 Birthday Boxes the club is distributing in the program's first round. "It's amazing how inspirational that is."

The club got the idea to encourage new voters from a news story about a similar program in Michigan led by a group called CitizenDetroit. Annette Smith, voter services chairwoman for the League of Women Voters of Naperville, said CitizenDetroit gave her the go-ahead to copy the premise, so her club got to work, presenting its first boxes Sept. 26, on National Voter Registration Day.

Roughly 30 students at Waubonsie Valley in Aurora were the first to receive the voting-themed gifts, and Smith said they did so with enthusiasm.

"Other students see them and they get kind of excited," she said about the boxes, which the club decorates with each teen's name and stickers saying "Happy Birthday!" and "Future Voter."

"It generates a conversation about voting," she said.

The club has distributed about 40 Birthday Boxes at Metea Valley in Aurora, choosing the school's Constitution Day in December as the occasion to hand them out. The rest of the soon-to-be 18-year-olds who took a government class during first semester will receive their boxes Tuesday, nearly two months before the March 20 primary.

Smith said government teachers at the two high schools are signing up students from their second-semester classes, and the league will try to deliver boxes for those teens before the primary, too. The league also is reaching out to teachers at Naperville Central and North high schools to expand the program.

So far, the group has spent about $380 on supplies to build and fill the boxes. But the biggest challenge, Smith said, is finding people to write letters of encouragement. Anyone who wants to write a letter to a newly eligible voter is asked to contact the club at lwvnaperville@gmail.com.

"It just feels like a really productive way to get young people involved," Craighead said.

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