Bliss youth learn leadership through action
Virginia Reza, Monitor Staff | Fort Bliss Monitor | 19 June 2008
“Change the world. Start here,” is what 24 Fort Bliss teenagers learned Thursday and Friday at the Points of Light Youth Leadership Institute program held at Balfour Beatty Community Center.
The program, headed by Tephanie Hopper, Fort Bliss Army Volunteer Corps coordinator and the only certified PYLI instructor in the Southwest, focused on leadership through community service, choices teens can make to impact their community, the various types of leaders and how to communicate with others.
“One of our goals was to teach the kids teamwork and how to deal with diversity,” Hopper said.
PYLI is an organization that started in the 1980s when different volunteer organizations came together to change their world.
“This curriculum is based on their focus mission: to get people involved to change the world through community service,” Hopper said
At the end of the program, which includes a five-day volunteer project, the teens will have to come up with a solution to improve on one or more issues they felt were obvious in their community. Some issues the teens brought forth include gang violence, teen pregnancy, drinking and driving, and public transportation, but their unanimous concern was the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, Hopper said.
“They felt very strongly about taking the test out of the graduation requirements,” Hopper said. “The students said one of the reasons they want to get rid of the test is because it can cause stress and low self esteem.”
Hopper said some students do very well throughout high school, but if they don’t pass the test they fail to graduate. Students said the TAKS causes students to drop out, and they felt there was not enough help within the schools to prepare students for the test.
Because the teens feel strongly about doing away with the TAKS, they are planning to voice their opinion by starting a petition to exempt the test. They would also like to implement fun school activities to prevent students from joining gangs.
The 24 students are scheduled to volunteer at Freedom Camp today through Saturday; after that, they will put forth their plans to improve their community, Hopper said.
“We want them to be more involved in the community,” Hopper said, “so that they can voice their opinion and the leaders in the community can here the teens’ points of view.”
The final project of the two-day program included a tower exercise, in which each group of teens was given masking tape, scissors, newspapers, magazines, a ball of twine and straws, and the task of constructing a tower in one hour. The project allowed the students to use creativity, decision making, vision, communication, action and empowerment skills. The towers were judged on height, stability, artistic appeal and originality.
“The project helped them realize that in any project and throughout life, there will be times where we don’t agree, but we move on to complete the mission,” Hopper said. “The project reiterated that is how the real world works, (and) that we can all use everybody’s talents.”
Mitchell Moser, a participant, said the class taught him how to become a good leader through fun activities. He said he definitely recommends the program.
“We learned different ways to lead and how not to be bossy, because then it turns into a dictatorship,” Moser said. “The training will help us in the future because there are groups anywhere you go, and every group needs a leader. This will equip us to be group leaders.”
“We are teaching them to be leaders and that one individual can make a difference,” Hopper said. “We want them to act on what they think should be changed in their community. This is where community involvement begins, and I want more kids to get involved.”