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Youth leaders plan Harbor House improvements

The KIDS PLUS Twin Ports Youth Leadership Academy serves up a recipe for change. It blends 50 high school freshmen from Duluth and Superior, adds a dash of adult guidance and molds the group together for a common purpose.

The KIDS PLUS Twin Ports Youth Leadership Academy serves up a recipe for change. It blends 50 high school freshmen from Duluth and Superior, adds a dash of adult guidance and molds the group together for a common purpose.

This year, the youth will tackle a service project at Harbor House Crisis Shelters in Superior. Even after the rakes and paintbrushes are put away, the lessons learned will linger.

"A lot of kids are discovering they can do things they never thought they could," said Bailey Johnson, one of 10 Superior High School youth involved in the program.

"It's a great, life-changing experience," said Nathan Van Meter, also of Superior.

Before their work day, youth leaders will be raising money and collecting donations for Harbor House during a bake sale from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Superior Walmart.

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"Everyone's making something different," Johnson said. "Brownies, cupcakes, I even heard talk of lemon bars."

Money collected will go toward improvements the youth are championing at Harbor House - from plumbing and sheetrock work to a new rug.

In past years, there were two separate leadership groups - one in Superior, one in Duluth - both funded locally through the Northland Foundation. This year, organizers have torn down state barriers, mixing youth from both sides of the border for the first time. That decision has been invaluable, Van Meter said.

"We might not do two projects, but I think we're getting more out of it," he said. "We're getting to bond with new people from different schools."

"I like the kids I'm working with," Johnson said. "They're enthusiastic and willing to get into just about anything."

Combining the groups provides a chance to show the youth that everyone's the same, no matter what their zip code, said Jan Amys, a program associate with the Northland Foundation.

"We are one community," she said.

The students involved are all freshmen.

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"Freshman year is the year you need a boost of confidence and this is definitely where you're going to get it," Johnson said.

Many of the youth aren't in traditional leadership roles at school.

"We don't want the president of the student council; they're already leading," Amys said. Instead, they choose students who are not in a lot of activities and maybe haven't had an opportunity to lead before.

The young people have been attending monthly meetings since September, starting with a retreat to fuse them together and tap into each student's unique leadership style.

"I'm a togetherness person," Johnson said, and "I do like to hear everyone's options before you decide."

Van Meter was found to be a kinetic, someone who adds energy to a group, but he's convinced he's an analyzer.

"I'm a perfectionist," he said.

Then, the adults steered them toward choosing a project, complete with tours of the possible sites they planned to help.

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"They give options and guidance, but left it up to us," Johnson said.

The youth chose to help Harbor House, which provides emergency shelter for homeless families with children.

"I think they saw that Harbor House really needed the help," Van Meter said.

It's a huge opportunity, Johnson said, to help not only the current occupants but those who will use the shelters in the future.

Students were in charge of approaching businesses and organizations for donations - both money and supplies. They created and sent out publicity letters about the bake sale and have been tasked with various jobs for the work day May 22 - from painting and landscaping to cleaning out the clutter filling the shelter's two-car garage.

The academy teaches more than leadership, Amys said. It encourages giving and provides a real-life experience - showing how much things cost and what programs like Harbor House do for the community. It also boosts confidence.

"The kids are so motivated," Amys said. "I think they challenge each other."

Van Meter said he's better at public speaking thanks to the academy. And he credits the program for introducing him to new friends. He's met fellow freshmen from Duluth and gotten to know other Superior students better. That confidence has even extended to students he doesn't know.

"At school if I see someone down and sad," he said, "I go up and say 'Hi." Make their day."

To donate money, items or services to the KIDS PLUS Twin Ports Youth Academy project, call the Northland Foundation at (218) 723-4040 or Amys at (218) 348-8190.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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