By Angie B., Alexandra House Youth Services Advocate
The Alexandra House Youth Services team is very excited to share the completion of the 2023 Youth Leadership Institute. This year we had a team of seven students from four schools across the district, including two returning students. Fellow Youth Services Advocate Nancy and I took responsibility of driving the company van to pick up the kids. Each way was a two-hour trip, but so worth the effort. Without the shuttle, a majority of the students would have been unable to attend. Most importantly, they really enjoyed the time to prepare for the day and decompress after.
As usual with teens, it takes about a day for everyone to warm up to each other. On the first day, most of the students were friendly, but quiet. To our surprise, the next day, the students really connected with each other and spent the entire car ride home laughing and sharing stories. Once they got comfortable with each other, they opened up about their life experiences and this bonding allowed them to have deeper conversations. Nancy and I made note of how the vehicle shook with their laughter on multiple occasions.
During the project week, we got to see everyone’s talents and skills. Our Youth Services Supervisor, Noah, was essential in setting up the atmosphere and expectations for the group. With expectations set, they could work freely without much instruction. Monday – Thursday, they created 1 or 2 projects a day to raise awareness about sexual violence and domestic violence prevention. With each activity, we recorded videos to explain the purpose of each activity. Then, a few of our students edited the videos. From top to bottom, their project was self-made. To check out the videos, please follow this link.
We are so very grateful to the YMCA for allowing us to use their space. Not only did we have a comfortable room to use, but we also had close access to the park and the trails. This was important because within the first couple of days, our students realized how heavy these conversations can be. Almost immediately, they were able to recognize the value of self-care during this kind of education. They would request to take walks after particularly taxing presentations, lay on the ground for self-regulation, grab a snack or water, and often used crafts or fidgets to stay focused. They also reached out to each other for comfort and support, which was an incredible development. On our last day, we took all the kids to the pools at the Y. As staff for this event, it was nice to see the kids connect and do something fun that was not advocacy related. They deserved it!
We can’t forget about the great work HyVee put into our meals! Almost every day there was enough food for every student to take something home. If there was not any food leftover, it was because we REALLY enjoyed it. They always had something to look forward to. The opportunity for these students to bring home food to their families was another factor that ended up being of great importance to the teens. Each day, the lunch menu was a topic of conversation (much like it is in school). They were so excited about the food in fact that when the deliveries arrived, they would all pitch in to help organize the pans of food.
At the end of our two weeks together, there was a little sadness in the air. Our students liked having a routine and being around their new friends and working on their projects together, especially during the summer. Many of them have already said they will be joining us for round 2 (or 3) next year! I believe that our cohort of 7 made incredibly valuable connections that they will take with them as they continue to impact the world. I can’t express enough how awe-inspiring this opportunity was for our team and students. We’re already thinking about next year!