By D’Havian Scott & Shane Mahon
Welcome back! Today we are going to talk about the Yes Network’s Leadership Development Program.
You might be asking, “What is the Yes Network’s Leadership Development Program?”
It’s an opportunity for Yes Network staff to train and mentor youth. The program begins with a leadership training conference each spring, which leads into a summer work experience. The work provides hands-on application of skills taught at the conference.
The Yes Network’s goals for youth development include:
- Strengthening their confidence and sense of self-worth,
- Seeking a deeper understanding of themselves and others,
- Prioritizing what is most important in their lives,
- Building meaningful connections with others, and
- Being proactive in their efforts to make a difference in their community.
This spring 52 high school youth from Central Minnesota schools participated in the conference, and 45 of those youth were hired by Yes Network to work in their own neighborhoods. Throughout the summer, students worked Monday through Friday serving meals, cleaning up, and assisting with recreation and art. At the end of the summer, the student leaders gathered in small teams to evaluate their work and look at their strengths. They were encouraged to imagine a career based on these reflections.
The Yes Network’s Leadership Development Program is important because research shows community leadership traits form before adulthood. These traits are gained through leadership experience. Youth living in under-resourced neighborhoods often do not have structured leadership opportunities. The Leadership Development Program offers them these opportunities.
Serving meals, cleaning-up, and helping with arts and recreation might not seem like much on the surface, but our leaders know there are many skills at play. Raychel Verning is the Art Program Leader and Coordinator, and was deeply impressed by the youth leaders. She saw how much responsibility they took on and saw them using important skills. For instance, she was impressed by the students’ organizational abilities. She observed that the students’ connection to their community meant that they knew the specific people to reach out to. Raychel put it this way:
“[the students said] ‘Hey, oh my gosh, that lady, let’s get her some meals!’ So these kids are getting a voice. They’re getting responsibility [and] control. They’re getting a connection, and they’re also getting mentorship from our program. I think that’s so exciting.”
Raychel also spoke about how many high schoolers were bilingual and were able to bridge language barriers between the volunteers and the families receiving food.
The high schoolers, aged 14-17 roughly, had an excellent grasp of their work, and made a real impact in their communities. The students commented how different this year was from last year, when they were able to interact more and play games with others in their communities. The hardships families are experiencing in the COVID-19 pandemic has made the work of the youth leaders more important than ever before, and the Yes Network’s Leadership Development Program is supporting them in reaching their goals. The youth leaders have become positive role models in their communities, and have fostered connections at a time when so many people are isolated for safety, while still relying on others for support and survival.
All of us at the Yes Network were happy to be able to continue the Leadership Development Program despite the challenges of the pandemic. Looking forward, Raychel hopes that with the continuation of this program,
“eventually, these students will become leaders in their local and state governments. These students are going to be leaders, with the families around them and with their community. They’re going to become leaders in their own families, they’re going to be good parents, good teachers, good scientists, and they’re going to be good artists. They get that experience of being a citizen and get that experience of having voice and responsibility and I love that so much.”