International Falls Youth Leadership Program (Mid-Year Report) : LUSENET : M.Ed./International Falls : One Thread

International Falls Youth Leadership Program:

An Initiative Investing in Diverse Youth

By Karen Rigdon

January 2000

International Falls, Minnesota was fortunate to be one of the communities recently chosen to pilot an initiative by the Northland Foundation. The contemporary yearlong youth leadership and mentoring program, funded by the Blandin Foundation, targets a diverse group of junior high school students showing leadership potential. The goal of this effort is to prepare young people to be active, engaged leaders in their schools and communities with the support of adults mentors.

The program began December 3-4, 1999 with a youth leadership retreat held at the Thunderbird Lodge on Rainy Lake in International Falls, Minnesota. The twenty-eight youth were welcomed at registration with warm greetings,T-shirts, nametags, workbooks, and lodge room keys. The entire lodge was reserved for the young adults and they did not hesitate to overlook that fact the entire weekend. Some of the children had lived in International Falls all their lives but had never had the opportunity to eat dinner at an elegant resort - much less have their own room.

The Blandin Foundation employed Craig Hillier of Lakeville, Minnesota to be the leadership facilitator for the weekend. Between meals and socials the young adults, mostly seventh through ninth graders, learned personal skills through a reflective questioning process. They had to define what being a leader meant to them, list who they thought are todays leaders, and write down the benefits and burdens of being a leader. They identified some common myths of leading and discovered Hilliers Leadership Laws. In addition, the adolescents explored their individual internal perspectives as they queried themselves on what success means to them, what their leadership strengths are, and what things they value the most in order of priority.

The second day of the retreat focused on team skills with various activities planned to physically engage the youth in the learning process. The challenges of teamwork and the qualities of successful teams were key points in the Saturday workshops. Motivating and demotivating factors of various leader types were discussed in addition to their various communication processes and conflict management styles.

Once a month, throughout the school year, the youth and community mentors will meet for two-hour workshops. The January workshop did not unite the mentors and students but subsequent workshops will be attended together. For the adults, the January session provided a background on the Youth Leadership Training Initiative, described the role of mentors in the project, and concentrated on effective communication and mentoring techniques with young people.

The training session was lead by psychologist Julie Streif and laughter abounded. She made the point, over and over again, that you do not have to like people in order to work effectively with them! At a more emotional level, Streif said that the one thing that makes the difference to kids is a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult. Never doubt or minimize the impact you can make on a kid, she encouraged. Listening skills, sending skills, the importance of focusing on process, and the concept of shared meaning in communication were several of the highlighted topics.

I am honored to be a part of this program and I am looking forward to learning along with the youth. Program topics for future sessions include conflict resolution / problem solving, team building, understanding government and community history, technology, and service project planning and implementation. There will be an early summer celebration activity with the young leaders, mentors, and facilitators to close the program.

-- Anonymous, January 20, 2000

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