Archive for Wednesday, February 7, 2001

New organization shapes youth leaders

February 7, 2001

It's not always easy for teens to be heard, or even to know how to make themselves be heard.

That's why an organization sponsored by Kansas State University put together a four-county group, KRYL. The organization Kansas River Youth Leadership focuses on building leadership talents of teen-agers.

Beth Hecht, of the Leavenworth County extension office, is one of four adults who head the group.

"There are some dynamic kids out there," Hecht said. "And so often, we just brush them off as teens."

KRYL comprises youths from Leavenworth, Douglas, Wyandotte and Johnson counties. The project started in fall 1999 with a grant from the Kansas 4-H Foundation.

"The mission is to inspire youth to become productive citizens in their own communities, working on real issues, while developing good leadership skills," Hecht said.

This is different from projects in which teens take on various volunteer work in the community, Hecht said.

"It's not just about getting them to go out and pick up trash and get the warm fuzzy feeling, which is good," she said. "But it's getting them to move from that community service of picking up the trash to asking: How can we make a long-lasting impact in the community?"

In 2000, the project's first year, 33 teens from the four-county area participated in monthly classes from January through December. This year, 44 teens are enrolled.

Maggie Bailey, a Tonganoxie High School senior, participated in the 2000 program and is assisting on planning KRYL meetings for this year.

Bailey said she benefited from the leadership tips she learned in the class.

For example, in working on a project with teens in the Argentine area of Kansas City, Kan., Bailey said she learned about communication. She said the teens used some different words in their vocabularies.

"It's a lot easier to communicate with children if you're on the same wave length as them," Bailey said. "It's important, not to try to be like them, but to talk like them. If you use their language, they'll respond to you more than if you just talk normal."

Also, Bailey said she now knows there's more than one way to fix a problem.

She said if she saw a dilemma in Tonganoxie, she would first contact the mayor or city council members to see what was being done and talk to them about what she thought needed to be done.

"And then if nothing was being done after that, I'd work on a plan," Bailey said.

That's the whole idea of the project, Hecht said.

"We want to get these kids to the thought that you need to not just be a member of your community, but a contributing member of your community," Hecht said.

Last year's activities included a day in Argentine where the youths cleaned a house and experienced inner-city life. They visited a head trauma center and talked to the people who worked there, learning about their careers. They toured a private jail in Lansing, went to the state capitol while the Legislature was in session, and attended a powwow at Haskell Indian Nations University.

Students from all walks of life in the four-county area are invited to participate. This year's program is full, but those who are interested in participating in 2002 are encouraged to call the Leavenworth County Extension Office.

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