By KAITLYN NAPLES
Not only does the United Way of West Central Connecticut offer adults ways to get involved and volunteer, its Youth Board allows teenagers to be part of an organization all their own. It also serves as a way for them to get involved in their local communities.
The United Way Youth Board was initiated in 1998 by United Way Board Member Dr. Max Riley, and consists of students and faculty advisors from six area high schools – Bristol Central, Bristol Eastern, St. Paul Catholic, Lewis S. Mills, Plainville, and Terryville High Schools.
Plainville High School senior Kaitlyn Bernier is in her third year as a member of the United Way’s Youth Board, and said she has enjoyed the interaction with other students from other schools, as well as having a voice in her community.
“It is totally run by students, and our advisors guide us along the way but we make the decisions and propose ideas,” said Bernier, whose sister is also a member of the board.
The Youth Board serves as a way for young adults to get involved in serving their community, and learning how to become leaders. Bernier said the board meets each month and discusses events they are going to host, how they will be volunteering over the course of the year, and more. She said every month a different school is responsible for holding a meeting where they are required to think of an ice-breaker for the board to participate in, and create an agenda and facilitate the meeting.
Bernier got involved in the Youth Board after she volunteered with the United Way’s annual Day of Caring they hold each spring. Since then, she said, she has enjoyed the responsibilities that have come with being on the Youth Board, and participating in her local communities.
Last year, the board organized a suicide awareness program, which she said was a good experience.
“We had some debates about the theme, and decided not to do suicide prevention since the schools cover that,” so the board decided awareness would be the best theme to choose, Bernier said.
The board also held a video contest where they invited participants to create videos depicting how they “Live United.”
This year the board is organizing a care drive where each school must collect certain items to donate to a local women’s shelter.
“We do multiple projects each year,” Bernier said, adding the group also volunteers with the Salvation Army, the annual children’s reverse holiday parade in Bristol, the annual Day of Caring, and more.
According to the United Way’s brochure on the Youth Board, “the ultimate goal of this group is for the students, as a group, to assess the issues that affect their peers, prioritize the projects they should undertake and formulate a plan to accomplish their goals and make the greatest impact.” These issues are always changing, as the generations and communities are always changing, so the Youth Board will always choose projects that are different from year to year.
Bernier will be going off to college next year, and said the college of her choice already has a connection with the United Way so she said she will continue to stay involved and volunteer.
“It’s fun, you get your voice heard, get to plan different events, and meet new people,” Bernier said, adding that even though many of the students on the Youth Board attend different schools in the area, everyone “gets really connected, even though we only meet once per month.”
She said she would encourage her peers to get involved in their local communities and volunteer because it teaches skills and characteristics that aren’t necessarily learned in school or in a text book.
“You really learn more social aspects about life and about yourself, and not just what kids your own age are doing,” she said, referring to projects at the Imagine Nation Museum, Shepard Meadows Therapeutic Riding Center, and more.
Students aren’t able to just sign up for Youth Board, they are selected by advisors at each high school. Mary Lynn Gagnon, director of Development and Donor Relations at the United Way of West Central Connecticut and advisor to the Youth Board, said students who have the potential to be leaders and who show leadership qualities are typically chosen by advisors. She also said students who are chosen must have the time in their schedules to be on the board, and also participate and engage.
For more information on the United Way’s Youth Board, visit www.uwwestcentralct.org.
Comments? Email knaples@BristolObserver. com.