STONINGTON — Among the town officials, department heads and staff at Town Hall, a youthful voice stands out this spring.
Madison Geiger, 17, is working as the first-ever Town Hall intern, and she’s loving every minute of it.
“I’ve always talked so much about students having a voice, and this is another outlet,” Geiger said Thursday at Town Hall.
As president of the Student Council at Stonington High School, Geiger recently brought attention to the $100 parking fee for students and worked successfully to have it lowered to $25, with the funds directed to student activities instead of the school district’s general fund. Now, under the direction of First Selectman Rob Simmons, she’s researching a request for additional funding from the Stonington Free Library.
“I went through every other town that’s near us and I compiled all their data and went through their budgets and found out if their towns gave them money,” she said, holding a stack of papers. “I found out what Stonington Free Library wanted to do with the money and wrote a two-page report on that and then took that to Mr. Simmons and he gave me more questions.”
Geiger continued to research and compiled a final report.
“Simmons’ final question was, ‘What do you think we should do?’ And he let me have an opinion,” she said. “It’s cool our own first selectman is willing to hear a 17-year-old’s opinion. That’s just not normal in a lot of places to give students such a big voice.”
Geiger’s internship is part of the high school’s internship class, which runs for the entire year. In the fall, students research, find and prepare for an internship in the spring. Geiger spends 2½ hours every other day at Town Hall and is required to work a minimum of 70 hours over the course of the internship.
It’s the second year the high school’s business educator, William Yuhas, has taught the class, which is open to juniors and seniors who go through an application process to be accepted into the program.
Geiger said she wanted to work with Simmons because of his varied political experience, which includes working in the CIA and serving as a U.S. congressman.
“This has only solidified that one day I want to go into politics, and I feel it’s opened doors that I didn’t know were there,” she said. “I think that’s the huge thing with the internship. It provides students with an opportunity to experience the real world. These are life lessons you cannot get in the classroom.”
But getting the internship wasn’t easy, because no one had interned at Town Hall before, she said.
“I really fought for this position. I’m pretty sure I called [Simmons’] office three times a week every week hoping to get in. I wanted the internship so bad and no one had done it before and they kept saying we don’t know if this is going to work out,” she said. “And I said, that’s OK, I’ll be the first, if I start and I fail, then no one else has to do it, but give me a shot. I pleaded my case. I kept calling.”
Geiger said she works at the Oyster Club in Mystic and co-owner Dan Meiser, who is Simmons’ son-in-law, asked him to give Geiger a chance.
“A lot about life is connections,” she said, adding that Simmons offered to give her one meeting to make her case.
“I said fine, give me 10 minutes, let me show you who I am, let me come down there, let me introduce myself. Get to know me,” she said. “I said, someone has to be the first, and I’m all about making change. I want the youth to have a voice.”
Geiger said she is learning from Simmons and he is learning from her.
“I have a page in here of life lessons that he’s taught me. The very first thing he told me on day one was ‘95 percent of politics is just showing up,’” she said. “While he’s helping me, I’m also helping him. I’m able to show him a different side of situations and say this why is teenagers are, or aren’t, involved in this.”
Simmons said working with Geiger was equally rewarding.
“One of the things about having Madison working in my office is that we have about half a century of age between us and yet she is so bright and so responsive and so intelligent about everything she does that we communicate absolutely and completely at every level, which is a wonderful talent for her to have,” he said.
Geiger also credited Stacey Haskell, executive administrative assistant to Simmons, with teaching her the details of how Town Hall operates.
“She’s teaching me life lessons from the perspective of the one who manages everything, and [Simmons] will tell you, ‘She runs this office more than I do,’” Geiger said. “I learn so much from her. I sit down [with Haskell] for 30 to 45 minutes of my time and just watch and take everything in.”
Having access to Simmons and the people in Town Hall is making the internship a rich experience, she said.
“It’s really cool to get to ask the questions whenever I want to ask them,” she said. “You don't have to schedule meetings. I can just knock on the door, ask a quick question and then go back to work. I love that. I love that I’m learning so much.”