year, hundreds of talented teens progress from Club leaders to become state and regional Youth of the Year representatives. Ultimately, six national Youth of the Year finalists emerge. But BGCA knows there are many more Club youth who crave additional leadership and career-building opportunities.
REACHING MORE TEENS “We’ve heard from Club leaders across the country that they need new strategies to attract and retain teens. Part of that involves more opportunities to engage in high-quality programming that prepares teens for the 21st century workforce and to give back to their communities,” said Williams. “We want Clubs to know that we’ve been listening, and the Advanced Leaders Institute is one way to help meet their needs.” Another important aspect of the Advanced Leaders Institute is the role that Youth of the Year alumni play as mentors and faculty during the conference. “It’s so important for our Club youth to have these impressive young adults to learn from and bond with. It brings to life all the leadership lessons we try to teach them,” said Tiffany Henderson, senior director, strategic initiatives and conference manager for BGCA. “The youth development professionals who chaperone the teens throughout the Institute also serve as important mentors and role models.” Connections youth make at the Advanced Leaders Institute are particularly important for participants’ imminent transitions to college, and beyond. Because many Club youth who seek their bachelor’s degrees are often first generation college students (they or their siblings are the first in their families to go to college), most will need to overcome challenges that low-income families face. So they benefit from meeting peers with whom
they can relate. Studies have shown that lack of peer support was a negative predictor of college adjustment, and also a predictor of lower grade point averages. The Advanced Leaders Institute creates a support system for these first-generation students that could ultimately make all the difference in helping them to stay in college and graduate.
FOSTERING CREATIVITY AND CONTINUAL IMPROVEMENT The programs and workshops of the Institute were run by employees from some of BGCA’s top sponsors, including Disney, Toyota and University of Phoenix. Disney offered sessions on creativity and leadership; University of Phoenix provided professional development experiences for Club staff; and Toyota led youth through a Kaizen exercise that was both a problem-solving model and a charity event for a local food bank. Kaizen, which in Japanese means good (zen) change (kai), is a philosophy that motivates people to continually improve their surroundings and one of Toyota’s core values. BGCA’s corporate partners and the skilled volunteers they provide are essential to the goal of helping kids grow into good citizens and ensuring they have the skills to succeed in any 21st century job they can imagine for themselves. “This first Advanced Leaders Institute was a huge success,” Williams said. “I can’t wait to see what next year brings – not only for the youth who will benefit from the thought-provoking and inspirational sessions, but because of what the Institute means for the growth and evolution of the Boys & Girls Club Movement overall.” Wendy S. Meyer is a freelance writer.
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Yo u t h o f t h eYe a r. o r g
Reaching the Summit. National Youth of the Year finalists, a testament to the Club Experience.