Leading the way: Bitterroot Valley high school students unite to build teen center, develop leadership skills

Halls of learning for future leaders aren’t always private preparatory schools on the east coast.

Leaders are born everyday, Theodore Roosevelt said, and a new Bitterroot program is honing the skills of high school leaders.

By JENNY JOHNSON Staff Reporter

A dozen high school juniors get together once a month as part of the Leadership High Bitterroot Valley, a program intended to inspire leadership, volunteerism and community service.

Tuesday, the group sat in cozy recliners and planned the final steps for what participants hope will be the beginning of a self-sustaining teen center.

"We’ve been laying the foundation for what is a really big project," said Page McBride, who serves as a coordinator for the program for Bitterroot Ecological Awareness Resources, one of the sponsors for the program.

The seven-hour sessions started in October with communication and tolerance workshops, McBride said. Community leaders conducted programs on education, community needs and service projects. And ultimately, the goal is to get a service project off the ground.

This group of students from Stevensville, Corvallis, Victor, Hamilton, Darby, Trapper Creek Job Corp. and the Alternative Learning Center decided to work on a teen center.

Their mission statement: Create an enjoyable place for all teen-agers to participate in a variety of safe, fun and protective activities.

"We’re hoping that it can support itself," Stevensville junior Clarisse McPherson said.

McPherson is a self-described detail nut who worries about "all the little things" in the project.

"She has all the notes and thinks of everything – some things that we overlook," fellow Stevensville student Kathryn Horning said of McPherson. "She’s great."

While McPherson brings her attention to detail to the table, others bring skills and strengths that the group members have learned to appreciate.

Horning is an idea girl, and Darby junior Hannah Teeples is a go-getter who, when in need of a brochure to identify the group, immediately volunteered for the job of designing it at home.

But in order to get the project off the ground, the group needs to raise money. With a mission statement in hand and about $250 in grant money from Healthy Families, the group is kicking off its fund-raising with a dinner social in May.

The brochure is one detail planned for the fund-raiser dinner, at which the students will be assisting a professional chef in preparing a four-course meal.

Besides planning the invitations and presentation of the dinner, the group needs to have their business plan completed and ready to present to a group of, they hope, donators. And all of this while working around tennis and track schedules, homework, family and social lives.

"When I go home from a day with these guys, this project is all I think about," Horning said.

The students do miss one day of school a month, which none of them seemed to mind. But most of the students said they enjoy the community service involved with the program.

"I like to go to things like this because it’s different than school," Teeples said. "It’s great to be around people who are really motivated."

Horning said she feels great about touching her community and being involved in service.

"Adults sort of think kids only get in the newspaper for bad things," McPherson said. "We are real teens that are doing real things."

The Leadership High students are working with the Kids First Youth Board, a perennial organization that lasts through the summer. And they are working off of teen programs at Kids First that have drawn teen-agers to poetry nights and dances. Some of the Leadership High students plan to join the Youth Board to continue with the project. Kids First helps sponsor the program, along with the Bitterroot Valley Chamber of Commerce.

For more information, call Kids First at 375-9588.

Reporter Jenny Johnson can be reached at 363-3300 or [email protected]

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