The inaugural Class of 2009 chose to create a program geared toward youth called “Building Leaders.” Building Leaders is a local educational program designed to provide youth with opportunities they might not have otherwise. The concept involved four events per year involving education, culture, sports or the arts.
Two class leaders came forward and presented a plan based on our objectives of serving youth and creating something that would be sustainable. The plan called for four committees to deal with planning, communications/marketing, coordination of volunteers, and event-day logistics. The class divided among the committees.
In April of that year, the first Building Leaders event was held at the Des Moines Playhouse. Thirty West Des Moines youth with connections to West Des Moines Human services attended a production of Sideways Stories from Wayside School. The group was able to have lunch and get to know the cast and crew before the show. After the show, some of the kids had the opportunity to recreate a scene from the play including special effects, lights and sound. All of the children had the opportunity to participate in a curtain call on stage.
In July, the kids rode in a float at the annual West Des Moines Fourth of July parade. They participated in several construction days where the kids built, painted and assembled the float.
On Labor Day, 17 kids had the opportunity to watch an I-Cubs game from the skybox and participate in activities at Principal Park.
Finally, we took the kids on a limo ride through Jolly Holiday Lights.
We made a point of talking to the kids about why we hang with them. During the discussion, one young boy offered up this reason: “to help us grow up to be better people.” We also asked the kids to clean up after themselves and we left our surroundings spotless, sharing lessons about respect and responsibility and how we made it easier on those who have to come in and clean up after us.
- Partnering with West Des Moines Human Services was valuable because they have an established base of the clients we were interested in serving and constant communication with those clients. They were often able to assist in the event in some way, providing space or transportation. It created a “safe zone” for the families we were helping to know our program was associated with WDM Human Services.
- We decided as we developed the class project that our objectives were to serve youth and create a sustainable program. We did successfully complete two events post-graduation, so still had some involvement from class members, but we were not able to continue the program into subsequent years as we’d hope due to lack of participation. Despite good intentions, sustainability can be difficult.
- Find a way to involve everyone. We could have done a better job of encouraging those who weren’t big on planning for or participating in the actual events with kids to help fundraise, generate publicity, etc. Instead, we primarily asked for donations.