On November 2 and 3, thirty-five youth from Lynn, Massachusetts convened at Gordon College to learn about leadership and exchange ideas in a positive environment. The event was organized by the Office of Community Engagement and several of its longest standing community partners in Lynn. The weekend was intended to encourage young leaders to begin creating the future they would like to see in their city, a message that many of the students came ready to dig into!
“These kids know that any change they want to see in Lynn starts with them. They want to build on what Lynn already has and show that there are good things in Lynn,” declared Junior Mullings, a leader from the Oasis youth group.
Victoria Bene, a Lynn high school student who participates in Girls Inc. explained, “Sometimes it feels like you’re the only person who believes in something. It’s refreshing to meet people in my same age group who care about the same things.”
The vision for the weekend sprung out of the longstanding tradition at Gordon of taking student leaders away from campus for a weekend retreat in order to help them prepare for leadership roles on campus the following year. Staff from the Office of Community Engagement brainstormed about how the Gordon College campus could be used as a resource for young leaders from Lynn. As Val Buchanan, the Director of the OCE, shared the vision with others around campus, ideas began to flow. The W.I.L.D. semester and La Vida offered students to lead the kids through the ropes course. Residence Life offered hall lounges for sleeping space for the participants. The Bennett Center staff offered to stay open until midnight for the exclusive use of the Lynn kids. And Gordon students offered to accompany the kids through the weekend, leading discussions and getting to know these young leaders.
Community partners in Lynn were also excited to pilot this new idea. The event included kids from a range of leading community organizations in Lynn, including KIPP Academy, a high-achieving charter school; Raw Art Works, an award winning art therapy program; Girls Inc., which provides extracurricular programming for girls from low-income families; and La Vida Scholars, which prepares Latino youth to be first generation college students.
This diverse group of leaders from within Gordon and from all over Lynn united behind this shared vision of supporting Lynn youth with a positive space to learn and share. What the participants would do with that space was up to them.
“We would never be able to pull off something like this on our own!” exclaimed Dave Zagunis, Executive Director of La Vida Scholars, as he looked out at the kids laughing, talking, and running through the Bennett Center on Friday night. “We are continually impressed and blessed by the stuff that Gordon in Lynn comes up with! We didn’t ask for this; it just feels like a gift.”
The whole group of Gordon students and Lynn youth jumped right into the experience, ready to make new friends and learn about leadership. As the Gordon student hosts welcomed this high energy group to the Bennett Center on Friday night, an impromptu dance party broke out.
“It’s so cool to be able to hang out with people who have had such different experiences from us and see that we have commonalities. We can dance to ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe’ and ‘Teach Me How to Dougie!’” laughed Gordon student Hayley Pomeroy.
“It was amazing to see how every kid here was not afraid to come out of their comfort zone. Everyone participated. Everyone was there. There was a lot of smiling, laughing, dancing... The energy was very high!” remarked Junior Mullings.
The evening then got down to business with a leadership workshop facilitated by Oasis Youth and Gordon students. After an intense and inspiring session, the kids were off to enjoy the rock wall, wallyball, dance lessons in the studio, a live DJ, and open gym until midnight!
Gordon students enjoyed their time hanging out with the Lynn kids as well.
“It was really cool for me to talk to the kids from KIPP. They’re only in eighth grade and they are already so driven and really know what they want to do. They are very future-oriented. I don’t think I was like that at their age!” joked Gordon sophomore Jenn Coverdale.
“It’s really easy as Gordon students to stay in the Gordon bubble. It’s cliché, but it exists!” Kailyn Kowolenko admitted, in explaining why volunteering each week in Lynn and being involved in events like the Lynn Youth Leadership Intensive is so important to her.
SPACE TO BE HEARD
The next morning, teams of Lynn youth went through the ropes course. The youth had fun, strengthened their friendships, and built confidence. They also had the opportunity to tour the Gordon campus and get a glimpse of college life.
Finally, the youth gathered together for some final moments to reflect on their experience and what they would be taking away. According to Lenn Gilles, an eighth grade student at KIPP Academy, the Lynn Youth Leadership Intensive was “the best program ever.” Others named highlights of the weekend as the ropes course, the rock wall, and the open gym time at Bennett. However, most youth, when asked what was the best part of their leadership experience at Gordon, said it was making new friends.
Zurich Deleon expressed the feeling of the whole group, “New bonds! I love to make new connections with people, so wherever I am, I can find people I know. We’re creating a tighter community.”
Alison Miller, an Artist Teacher at Raw Art Works, echoed the same sentiment; “It’s good to feel that you are heard and to make space for other people to be heard.”
Encouraged by the success of this pilot year, the Office of Community Engagement is already dreaming with its community partners about making the Lynn Youth Leadership Intensive an annual event.