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Sea Cliff legislative intern wants to move the future

Blooming into a leader

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Social justice advocacy has been a huge part of Sophie Blumenthal’s life for as long as she can remember. She has always felt a need to push for equality among all people, wanting to meaningfully affect change on a wide scale. At 16 years old, she’s on a faster track to doing so than people twice her age as the field director of Legislator Josh Lafazan’s high school internship program.

Sophie, who lives in Sea Cliff, found out about Lafazan’s internship program in 2017 after her parents, Noah and Beatrice, met the then-candidate, an independent from Woodbury, at a Democratic Club of Hempstead Harbor meeting. They figured Lafazan’s push toward getting teenagers involved in his campaign was a perfect opportunity for their daughter, despite her not having even entered high school yet.

“We knew how politically minded Sophie was at the time,” said Noah, “so we took a business card and brought it home to [her] and she took it from there.” He said this was especially true after the 2016 presidential election, the results of which his daughter felt were a consequence of the injustices existing in the United States today.

Sophie jumped on the opportunity without much hesitation, and began canvassing, calling constituents and knocking on doors on behalf of Lafazan’s campaign.

Now a junior at North Shore High School, Sophie served as the field director of Lafazan’s high school internship program this past summer. She oversaw between 50 and 60 interns as they planned policy, operated the legislator’s social media accounts and created events for him to host, among other responsibilities.

“Transformative,” was how Sophie described her experience working with Lafazan’s office. “It really opened my mind to the entire worlds of politics and the realm of what is possible,” as politics are no longer a “far away issue” for her.

“It’s shown me that there’s so much you can do . . . even the smallest things you can do will have an impact,” she continued. “There’s always a difference you can make.”

But Sophie’s success does not stop with the responsibilities which come inherent with her position, as she has also created an organization called “Move the Future.” Its concept arose for her in February 2018 as she was kicking around ideas to help replicate the success of Lafazan’s internship programs.

Sophie and a few other interns put together a 25-page guide which they sent to over 50 campaign offices in a dozen states leading up to the 2018 election season, including those of State Sen. Jim Gaughran, a Democrat from Northport, and Assemblyman Chuck Lavine, a Democrat from Glen Cove. The guide details a three-stage process of what candidates can do to get high schoolers involved in politics.

The first stage, and the most difficult according to Sophie, is recruitment. She said it’s important for campaigns to reach out to parents, both in person and electronically, to let them know of internship opportunities to get their teens busy for the summer. Next is the orientation stage, which focuses on inspiring interns and making them want to stay on the campaign trail. One of the most important aspects of this stage is personal communication with the candidate, as she said that plays a large role in igniting and maintaining a teen’s passion for politics.

The third stage is what Sophie described as making the internship a self-driving car. Organizing interns into special teams, giving everybody a specific role and creating a cohesive culture can make all the difference, she said, and working with young people is something every politician should do.

“Being able to interact really consistently with young people who are passionate and excited and dedicated and motivated, it’s such an important, good feeling to have,” she said. “Working with them makes me feel confident, happy, and excited for the future of our country and our world.”

Lafazan described Sophie as precocious and dedicated to making her beliefs a reality. “She is the most ahead of her time teenager I’ve ever met,” he said. “Oftentimes I forget how young she is.”

As she moves forward with her life and career, Sophie said she wants to find herself in politics and to study political science in college. She said she understands that compassion, empathy and kindness can be beneficial tools in the world of politics and wants to put emphasis on people’s positive qualities when working with them.

Her father said that politics can be a brutal business, and although he is confident in her ability to succeed in that realm, his main concern is that Sophie and her sister, Ella, remain proud and happy with the work they do in the future.

“My greatest hope for my kids is that they’re happy,” Noah said. “So, I could tell a story about hoping she will run for office or do some great political thing and that may well be what happens, but my greatest hope for her is that she pursues something she’s passionate about and she does work that makes her happy.”

Lafazan made it clear that he has the utmost confidence in Sophie’s future success in politics. “I just hope she saves a cabinet position for me when she’s president,” he said.