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Making a difference

Youths engage with community to cross generational gaps

— Submitted photo Tiffany Larson, front, poses with a group of SHIFT Happens students at the 2016 dodge ball tournament the group sponsored. SHIFT Happens is focused on making an impact in the community to help teens be above the influence.

Many young men and women throughout Hamilton County are making a difference to better their communities. Here are a few of the many groups that local students are getting involved in to make a change.

Power Up YOUth

According to the their website, “Power Up YOUth is a community coalition designed to work toward creating a positive community environment concerning youth development in Hamilton County, IA. One of the unique features of the coalition is the belief held by all members that “collaboration” is essential if our vision of “All Hamilton County youth will thrive” is to be realized. A broad base of representatives must be at the table to affect the type of global change that is desired.”

Kathy Getting, Power Up YOUth coalition director and coordinator, has been involved with the program since 2008.

“My role is to support the coalition members in carrying out their plans to improve conditions in the community so that we can have positive youth development and prevent risky behaviors,” said Getting.

Getting is an employee with Upper Des Moines Opportunity, Inc. who is involved in the Power Up YOUth Coalition efforts.

“We bring different people from diverse sectors of the community and identify issues that we want to work on. Right now we have funding to work on substance abuse,” said Getting. “We’re youth-focused.”

Getting noted that Power Up YOUth also focuses on pregnancy prevention.

“We believe that strong communities create strong kids and they in turn grow up to create stronger communities,” said Getting. We try to focus on things that are happening in the community rather than what individuals are doing. We try to make changes in the environment rather than changes in people.”

Power Up YOUth also contributed to the creation of the Youth Advisory Commission through intergenerational conversation. The YAC will serve as a way to bridge the communication gap between local youth and city government.

Power Up YOUth meets the third Tuesday of every month at InTandem from noon to 1:30 p.m. According to Getting, the meetings are open to anyone. She noted Power Up YOUth is in need of a diverse group of big-picture thinkers, analyzers, mobilizers, people who want to make connections, and individuals who want to actively participate and make Hamilton County better for everyone.

The coalition encourages conversation between all ages in the community and has held book discussions to generate new ideas between students and adults.

“We recently had our third community book reading discussion of “Artificial Maturity” in South Hamilton,” Getting said.

One of their most popular events is their annual youth summit. This year’s youth summit will be held on April 7. This year’s summit will focus on work-readiness skills for students/youth and establishing connections between youths and adults.

Those interested in attending can contact Webster City High School Principal Brent Jorth at (515) 832-9210.

According to Getting, the two main findings at last year’s youth summit were that kids longed for experiences and respect from adults.

“What they need from us is opportunities for experiences and that we as caring adults have to be more mindful about seeing those opportunities and creating those opportunities,” said Getting.

A volunteer with VistaAmerica was hired by Power Up Youth with the help of nine donors to complete a youth needs assessment in Hamilton County. Seventeen needs were found as a result. According to Getting the two biggest needs youth in Hamilton County identified with were work readiness skills and addressing interpersonal skills.

Getting hopes to address these needs at the March Town Hall meeting held by the City Council of Webster City.

“I think it’s important for people to know that prevention is a wise investment,” Getting said. “For substance abuse prevention, for every dollar spent there is a return on investment of $2-10.”

According to Getting, Power Up YOUth is currently in the process of planning a training of members of boards and committees in Hamilton County to help them engage kids in their civic endeavors and leadership roles.

“Soon this spring we will be engaging the community in planning how to better improve one or two of the needs found in our community needs assessment, most likely adult youth connections / mentoring,” said Getting. “We’d love to have people take part in helping us through 5 steps of the planning process: Visioning, Assessment, Evaluation planning, Analyzing the strategic opportunities and Goal setting.”

The first parent cafe will happen on Thursday, Feb. 23.

“Community connections are really important. The more that families and individuals are connected to networks in the community, the more they’re able to solve problems and get resources,” Getting said.

For more information about Power Up YOUth call (515) 835-2429.

SHIFT Happens

Students Helping Impact Future Teens.

SHIFT Happens is focused on making an impact in the community to help teens be above the influence. Their efforts have been assisted by the Bee Inspired CAPP Program through Building Families, Hamilton County Public Health, Power Up YOUth, Community & Family Resources, and the school district.

Tiffany Larson was hired as the Community Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Coordinator (CAPP) for the Bee Inspired CAPP program in 2008. As the program progressed the focus broadened to include youth development to encourage young adults to be healthy and make the right choices in life.

“I was born and raised in Hamilton County, so I’m obviously very passionate about Hamilton County and passionate about the youth being involved in the community. This is really near and dear to my heart,” said Larson.

One of Larson’s responsibilities as CAPP Coordinator is working with youth development.

“SHIFT Happens kind of started as a JEL (Just Eliminate Lies) group and through that process of meeting with the youth, they wanted to do so much more, so it became more encouraging their peers to be above the influence,” Larson said.

“Within SHIFT Happens is helping make an impact,” said Larson. “IMPACT is an acronym. It’s really figuring out how they can Influence, how they can Make proud choices, how they can have Positive peer pressure and their attitude be positive, how can they Change social norms, and how they can Tell other teens about being involved,” Larson said.

The name for the group developed after students went to a youth summit in Arizona with Kathy Getting, Power Up YOUth.

“They had heard that there were other peer-to-peer education groups and peer-to-peer leader groups and they wanted to form one here,” Larson said.

The group consists of students in grades nine through 12 in the Hamilton County area. Students meet normally twice a month on Wednesday evenings at 7:33 p.m. to plan events and develop action plans for area youth. According to Larson there is an average of 10 to 15 students involved in SHIFT Happens each year.

“Those who want to come from any of the schools within Hamilton County are more than welcome to,” Larson said.

“It’s snowballed into this encouraging group of youth that consistently want to be involved and find ways to increase awareness and prevention efforts, not only in their school, but in their community,” said Larson.

“We meet and I tailor, based on talking to some of the older youth, kind of a game plan,” Larson said. “At our meetings we plan our different events. It may also be where there’s a learning activity…in the past we’ve had someone come in and talk about money talk, healthy relationships, and where to find resources in the community.”

Students plan an average of three major events each year to promote student wellness as well as give back to the community.

“It’s really up to them to plan the events, create the events, and implement them,” said Larson.

A barbeque is put on during the summer as a way for youth to have a fun, substance-free event to attend. During prom season, students raise awareness about staying above the influence.

“Students encourage their peers to have a safe, fun, and sober time during prom,” Larson said.

Larson also noted that students recently completed a presentation video that Crimestoppers can use to show the community how to use their TipSoft program.

“The goal is to be helping them with a movie ad,” Larson said.

One of the most popular events is the annual dodgeball tournament.

“They pick a different cause each year,” Larson said. “In the past, they’ve helped raise funds for the movie theater…last year they raised around $450 for the Jorden Leeper Scholarship Fund.”

This year’s annual dodgeball tournament will take place on Friday, Feb. 24 at 7:30 p.m. at Jeff Gymnasium

“Dodge Ballin’ for Acceptance will have students and community members ducking, diving and dodging to raise money for items to enhance the classrooms for peers and peer inclusion. Students are planning on using the funds raised to go towards items to be used for Peer P.E. at Webster City High School and other schools within the district.

Students in grades five through 12, as well as families and/or community members are invited to participate. There will be 3 brackets: middle school, high school, and family/community combo. Teams of 8-10 players can register and pick their themes.

“The youth really would like to see community teams formed,” said Larson.

Check-in starts at 5 p.m. and the event runs from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Registration is only $5 per participant. The funds will be divided equally between Sunset Heights, Pleasant View, Webster City Middle School, and Webster City High School.

Spectators are welcome to watch the fun unfold for a free-will donation.

“All money donated will go towards purchasing items that enhance student engagement and encourage inclusion with peers within the district,” said “Larson. “That’s where the freewill donation will go for those who want to come and watch.”

Larson hopes to increase the number of youth involved in SHIFT Happens in the future.

“That peer to peer support is so important,” said Larson. “We as adults in the community can help support that, advocate for that, and really encourage youth. They are our future mentors and leaders.”

“Something that is a personal goal for me, I really want to encourage youth being able to share their voice and put the ideas they have into action and being involved in school, their community, and the county,” said Larson.

Any students in the Hamilton County area in grades 9-12 who would like to get involved in SHIFT Happens can contact Larson at shifthappenshamco@gmail.com or visit the SHIFT Happens Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

“I’m an advocate for youth. This provides them an opportunity to have a peer-led group,” said Larson. “I think all of us together just want to have youth and adults interacting in a positive manner. This provides an opportunity for youth to really come up with ideas and implement them.”

Maddie Casady, 17, Senior at WCHS: “I love being a part of SHIFT Happens because it’s a great way to meet people in the community and help create fun activities to keep people involved in their community.”

Haakon Edwards, 16, Junior at WCHS: “I’m involved with SHIFT Happens because the whole organization is all about helping out others and I believe being a part of this group makes me a better person.”

Hannah Miller, 17, Junior at WCHS: “I have been in Shift Happens since I was a freshman. A friend of mine was going to a meeting and asked if I wanted to tag along, and I gladly said yes! I fell in love with it during the first meeting I attended. The other students and adults involved are extremely nice and personable, making the meetings more laid back and fun! I enjoy reaching out to my peers and displaying and safe and healthy lifestyle while having fun to them! Organizing our big dodge ball tournament every year is always exciting as well! My favorite part is deciding which cause we will donate all of our earnings too.”

Teen Lounge at KYL

Libraries are known for their quiet, tranquil atmosphere. Patrons who walk in the doors of Kendall Library know this well. However, on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, patrons who go to the lower level of the library will often hear laughter and the buzz of local students engaging in fun activities during Teen Lounge.

The Teen Lounge program began in 2012 after staff saw that a large group of teens would visit the library regularly after school. They decided instead of shushing them, they would designate a time and place for teens to hang out and do fun activities at the library.

“They thought we should give them a space where they can be teens and talk and have fun together. They decided to find a space for that and dedicate staff to it,” said Lindsay Anderson, teen librarian at KYL.

Anderson has been working at KYL since 2014 and applied for the position because of the great programs the library offered both teens and the community.

“I enjoy working with all ages but teens just excite me because a lot of people view the teen years as a transition. The years you have to get through before you reach adult age,” Anderson said. “I see teens as having so much potential. I feel that they are an untapped resource.”

Anderson is a firm believer in establishing connections with youth and giving them an outlet to express themselves and have fun.

“I feel it’s so important to build into them at that age and make sure they know they are valuable and they have a lot to offer.I think that carries over into adulthood,” she said. “Teens who believe they can make a difference grow up to be adults who believe they can make a difference,” Anderson said.

During Teen Lounge, students can play games, do activities, make crafts, and more during these two hours twice a week at Kendall Young Library. Six laptops are provided for students to use as well as board games, card games, and more. Students can also participate in Wii Wednesdays at Teen Lounge and play with the video game system.

“I plan all kinds of random activities based on what’s going on at the library,” Anderson said. “For instance, right now we’re in the middle of the winter reading program here at the library, which lasts the whole month of February,” Anderson said.

The theme for this winter reading program is “Reading is Delicious” so students are getting involved in a coloring contest and drawing their favorite foods.

Teen Lounge is held on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons after school until 5:30 p.m. Teen Lounge is only held during the school year when class is in session. When school is canceled, for example snow days, there is no Teen Lounge. When Webster City Schools have a scheduled early out, Teen Lounge happens two hours earlier than the regular time.

Anderson said that Teen Lounge will be adding a movie to Teen Lounge once a month beginning in March. According to Anderson, a new movie will be shown once a month on Thursday afternoons from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

“I’m going to try schedule it for the last Thursday of the month but it’s going to depend on when certain movies are released,” Anderson said.

“My favorite thing about libraries in general is that one of our main goals is to provide access regardless of socioeconomic level, status, how much money you have, age, race..we don’t discriminate. It’s really a place where everyone is welcome,” said Anderson.

“I think that’s really important for teens especially because I just think that’s a really hard age. It’s when people start looking around and realizing there’s differences and that can be really hard,” said Anderson.

“I make it a space that is a safe environment for everyone,” Anderson said. “When teens feel safe and wanted at a library I think it makes such a difference. It provides so many different resources for all ages.”

“I love that teens can come to the library and get used to using a library,” Anderson said. “I think libraries are really important and I think it’s really important to teach teens that and get them to be life-long library users and life-long valued members of the community.”

Youth Advisory Commission

Students in Webster City are being given the opportunity to step up and work with the city council to lessen the communication gap between generations in town. A Youth Advisory Commission was recently established by the City Council of Webster City to give youth a voice in city government.

The commission will consist of three middle school students, three high school students, and a council appointed member. Councilman Logan Welch was recently appointed to the commission on behalf of the City Council of Webster City.

“Every advisory board has some type of liaison to the city administration,” Welch said. “My role, I would not have any voting rights, I’m there simply as a conduit to the council.”

“I’ve spent my middle school and high school years in the school system here in Webster City. I shared a lot of the same experiences these middle schoolers and high schoolers experienced,” Welch said. “Going through that time of life in this community, I’ve seen a lot of change happen. Obviously, now I have a better perspective of it being on the other side.”

The idea for the commission was first brought to the City Council of Webster City in the fall of 2016. Welch explained the process to establish the commission has taken a longer amount of time because the commission will be an established group. The council approved an amendment to city ordinances in January of 2017 to make the group official.

“To make it permanent we had to literally, legally write an ordinance, so we had to involve the city attorney…we had to go through the ordinance approval process, the council had several readings. It took some time to get all those boxes checked,” Welch said.

According to Welch the council will be interviewing applicants for the positions towards the end of February and early March.

“I would like to see the first meeting be somewhere in the beginning of April. By then, we should have all of the people appointed. It’s such a great way to gather their input and knowledge,” said Welch.

This commission is near and dear to Welch’s heart because he was once in the shoes of today’s Webster City youth.

“Being an adult that spent his youth in Webster City, I empathize with some views the youth have on the city not caring about their input or not really having much buy-in as a youth to the community,” Welch said. “I thought it would be a great thing to create and give them an advisory role to the council.”

Welch credits the idea of the commission to the youth in the community who are currently involved in other student organizations in the community.

“I’d just like to thank the youth of Webster City for being vocal and coming to their leaders and telling us they want to be heard. I owe them a lot of credit,” said Welch.

“It gives youth the opportunity to talk with adults about positive choices, community involvement, community betterment…from those conversations I kept hearing the same frustration I felt as a kid of not being heard and not knowing who to go to,” Welch said. “I think what drove me to do it is hearing the kids, relating to it, and being in a position of somewhat power to make it happen.”

Welch will be present at meetings to guide students along with projects and ideas that they have for the community.

“I think my empathy level and my life experiences in their shoes will help me bridge that gap,” said Welch. “Students can come to me with ideas and I can bring these ideas to the council or I can use my avenues of resources through the city to help them.”

“We have some of the most giving and eager kids to help our community,” Welch said. “I want to make sure they are encourage, supported, and given the right direction.”

According to Welch, some possible ways the YAC could contribute to the community include the revitalization of a downtown park, a city YouTube page to inform locals about what the council is currently working on, and other projects that will benefit Webster City.

“The only other responsibility they have is to figure out what the youth want and come to the council with that. Obviously if the council tasks them with something they take that on and tackle the issue,” Welch said. “It’s a two-sided coin. They’re representing their age demographic’s wants and needs and also tackling the needs of the council.”

Welch sees a bright future ahead for the commission and believes that it will benefit the whole community. He hopes that by the end of the 2017, the commission will have accomplished one major project for either the council or the community.

According to Welch the YAC will bridge the age gap in Webster City and create a buy-in for youth to return to Webster City and invest their skills and talents back in the community.

“I’m optimistic that the commission will take itself seriously, the community will take it seriously, the council will take it seriously, and there will be some high exposure projects that come out of it,” said Welch.

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