SHELL LAKE, WI — The 2nd Annual WashCo Youth Leadership Adventure was held in July 2022. This three-day event was the culmination of months of planning, which focused on concepts contributing to each participant’s growth in leadership and resiliency.
Last spring, high school students across the region were invited to apply to help lead this event with 15 youth, representing 4 school districts, selected to be Crew/Mentors for the Adventure. These students completed more than nine days of training in various leadership, empowerment and resiliency skill areas. The book, “Together is Better” by Simon Sinek was utilized to support and generate this training. Several concepts were pulled from the book to support crew members. Middle school students were nominated by teachers, community members, and parents to become Explorers (participants).
During Crew training days, community members and organizations were invited to join and share their expertise with the students. Cara (Spooner Health) presented on communication and soft skills. Emily and Kassie (North of Eight Design & Marketing) participated in exploring how passions can lead to actions through vision boards. Jess and Liza (Embrace) presented on bystander intervention and how it can impact the community. These community partners created connections with the Crew and provided them a broader understanding of how leadership plays into everyday activities and how essential it is to address needs within the community.
The Crew built two community garden beds during their training. The students were excited to give back to our community in a tangible way. Later in the training, the crew was asked to share their visions for our community. Throughout the discussion, some striking similarities arose. The Crew created three group projects pertaining to their similar interests and visions about the community. One group built and painted Aldo Leopold benches to be placed throughout the county. Another group is working on creating a place for public community art expression. The final group is working on addressing how youth can be empowered to share their voice and views with the community. After the Adventure training was over, the crew members had the opportunity to continue to work and focus on their projects.
With all of the newly acquired knowledge and skills, the Crew was ready for the Adventure. The training was modeled after a 3 day conference complete with keynote speakers, breakout sessions, networking opportunities, etc. Youth arrived at the Washburn County Services Building just after lunch on Friday, and returned Sunday roughly the same time.
The Adventure began with a keynote speaker, Kelly Hirn, who discussed strategies to manage and cope with stress/stressors in the moment. The Crew and the Explorers were broken into teams and instructed to build the tallest tower. Meanwhile, the rules/guidelines kept shifting which added extra stressors for the groups. It was interesting to see how the teams dealt with those extra pressures which lead to a rich discussion about individual reactions.
To learn more about individual characteristics and traits, the Crew led a large group session based on Know & Love Personality Quiz for Kids. Everyone that took the quiz was assigned an animal. These animals give a little more insight into how to understand ourselves and what makes each of us tick, as well as understanding how to work in groups, solve conflicts, and communicate more effectively. Upon returning from the Adventure, one Explorer’s family shared that their whole family took the quiz so they could have a better grasp of what their Explorer would be talking about.
Explorers also participated in numerous breakout sessions. The first round of breakouts included Mindfulness and Meditation, Gratitude and Appreciation, Perseverance and Growth Mindset, Connecting Music and Emotions, and Puzzles, Teamwork & Communication. These were led by community volunteers: Shannon Starr, HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital, Deputy Olson of the Washburn County Sheriff’s Office and Adam Bever, Rice Lake Middle School Band Director.
Recreation time was an event Crew members and Explorers were excited for. There were plenty of activities to meet the needs/requests of the members and explorers such as swimming, fishing, crafts, archery, giant slingshots, canoeing. Officer Dorn from the Spooner Police Department took Explorers fishing and a few even caught their first fish! Knocker ball was a big hit as well. (Knocker balls are large bubble-like suits that the participants wear. Think of them like bumper cars, the suit is the car.)
Later that day there were more opportunities for experiential breakout options provided by many community members/organizations: Lakeland Family Resource Center led a low ropes course, Equine Assisted therapy with Kayla Veness, Making Zines with the Spooner Memorial Library, Canoe Flip with Hunt Hill Audubon Society and Communication/Leadership Skills with Anna Demers. Anna also taught Crew and Explorers how to use a compass for orienteering.
No training in an outdoor setting like this would be complete without campfires and s’mores, night hikes to see the stars, and the opportunity to experience nature.
Leader Moments were devised as a way to connect with Explorers in the moment to acknowledge their individual growth. Throughout the event, when staff or Crew members noticed Explorers stepping up to assist without being asked, or stepping out of their comfort zone, “Leader Moments” led the way. The Explorer were acknowledged with a slip noting why they were being recognized. The slip was then entered into a drawing for local donated prizes from Red Cross Pharmacy, the Spooner Outlet, Aloe and Jade, River Street Family Restaurant, Northwind Book & Fiber, the Dock, and the Spooner Police Foundation.
In addition to the prizes for Leader Moments, this project also received local financial assistance from Larry and Karen Daniels and Spooner Health. Kwik Trip, Burnett Dairy, and the Spooner Bakery supplied the Adventure with amazing snacks.
While the training was getting ready to come to a close, Crew members introduced ways for the Explorers to become involved within their communities. The youth coalition CITY (Change in the Youth) was formed after Explorers at the 2021 Adventure wanted to continue to be involved helping the community address youth substance use. This organization has been active throughout the past year and have been meeting weekly throughout summer. In addition, the Crew invited Explorers to join their community group projects.
Appreciation Bingo was our final event before loading the busses to return to Shell Lake. Explorers, Crew and staff were given bingo cards with various characteristics listed in each square such as “made me laugh”, “showed respect” and “took a risk.” Youth were asked to reflect on the Adventure and then recognize individuals that had enhanced their experience. While gathering signatures, participants shared why chose each signer for the specific boxes. It was heartwarming to see and hear how impactful their experience was throughout the weekend.
What were the impacts? The Crew and Explorers completed an evaluation reflecting upon their experiences with the Adventure. What did they learn? What would they take with them? Here is a smattering of responses from the youth.
- I learned there is a lot that goes into being a good leader and how important it is to work together! Age 12
- I learned to respect others. Age 13
- I learned how to deal with stress in a healthy way. Age 14
- I learned that I’m not alone in my issues. Age 14
- I learned a lot more people than I thought were going through hard times. Age 12
- I learned it's OK to express yourself in silly ways. Age 12
- I would recommend anyone come here if they want a fun way of learning. Age 13
- I loved seeing so much growth in such a short time. Age 18
The youth that participated gained leadership skills, new experiences and increased resiliency. With the Adventure as their basis for learning and becoming leaders, Washburn County will see impacts within the youth and community, not only in the next few months, but years to come.
If you are interested in learning more about the next Adventure, CITY, or other youth programming and opportunities in Washburn County, please connect with our local coalition: Community Alliance for Prevention of Washburn County (www.healthywashco.org or @WashCoPrevention on Facebook.)