Although they only account for 4.8 percent of all American elected officials, office-holders under the age of 35 showed this week that they are still determined to be effective leaders.

Today, more than 150 of these young elected officials working in all levels of government will leave Little Rock, Ark., after the conclusion of the 2008 Young Elected Officials Network conference. The three-day gathering was created as an opportunity for younger leaders to share and develop the resources and skills necessary for long-term success as public servants.

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. — who served on a panel on immigration issues — and Ward 2 Alderwoman Gina Calder ’05 EPH ’08 represented the city at the event.

“It’s a good opportunity for young elected officials to learn tools and learn from the experiences of other elected officials,” City Hall Spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said.

Originally from Neptune, N.J., Calder is currently a graduate student in the Health Policy and Administration program at the Yale School of Public Health. After entering office in 2007, Calder became involved in the Young Elected Officials, or YEO, Network when she learned about it from Ward 9 Alderman Roland Lemar.

The Network’s convening was a chance to acquire skills in many areas ranging from fundraising to engaging her constituency to facilitating New Haven’s development, Calder said.

“One of the pieces that I would really want to look at as a young person is increasing the number of work-force housing developments for young professionals, teachers, firemen, all the people who are serving the city,” Calder said. This, she believes, could help stabilize the city.

The populations that work in New Haven are different than those who live in New Haven, she said, and this kind of change could make them more aligned.

But in addition to being informative, Calder’s time in Little Rock has also raised her motivation as a YEO.

“It’s definitely encouraging,” Calder said. “It makes me want to come back to New Haven and not only work on policy but encourage other young people to participate in public office.”

In fact, Calder plans to meet this Saturday with three other YEOs from the New Haven Board of Aldermen to share the information and resources she has gained while at the convening.

One of those YEOs not in attendance, Ward 22 Alderman Greg Morehead, was unable to attend for personal reasons, but he said he believes the conference can provide an important opportunity for those who get to participate.

“It’s not just young elected officials exchanging business cards,” Morehead said. “We can actually go and learn from others, from what they’ve done in their respective wards, and bring it back to enhance our communities.”

As Vice-Chair of the aldermanic Public Safety Committee, Morehead has also worked with Calder, spearheading an initiative for increased pedestrian security in New Haven. The experience has shown what qualifications Calder can bring to the YEO conference herself.

“She’s a young person that has fresh ideas,” Morehead said. “Even with the other officials, she comes from Yale, and she has that background.”

Having assisted with Calder’s campaign for office, Ward 13 Alderman Alexander Rhodeen also said he believes Calder will both benefit and contribute to the exchange of ideas the conference hopes to foster.

“She’s bright and hard-working and committed to her neighborhood,” he said.

Calder will also meet with Ward 1 Alderwoman Rachel Plattus ’09 and Ward 15 Alderman Joseph Rodriguez.

The conference was a program of the People For the American Way Foundation.