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Hill teens Keystone program gets award

By Lee Anne Hensley - Hilltop Times Staff - | Nov 24, 2009

Seven teenagers from Hill Air Force Base’s Youth Center Keystone club traveled to San Francisco, Calif., to claim their prize for organizing “the Ultimate Teen Program” within the Pacific region at a regional conference hosted by the Boys and Girls Club of America and the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens on Nov. 15.

The Keystone program is a BGCA-chartered leadership and service club for youth ages 14 to 18. The goal of Keystone clubs is to help teen members become more productive citizens and leaders.

The Keystone club at Hill’s Youth Center has been active for the past four and a half years. Its most recent community service activities have drawn the attention of its regional constituents, which led to the club’s “Ultimate Teen Program” award.

“Last year, the Keystone group raised money to buy books for Afghani children with the hope that promoting literacy in that country will steer them away from violence,” explained the center’s Youth Programs Assistant Director, Drew Ulsh.

“For every 10 cents raised, we would buy one book,” said Keystone member, Brett Schmutz.

The club coordinated with local area vendors to purchase the books and, together, sent enough books to allow 320 Afghani students to study from for approximately six months.

Although the project was an international effort spearheaded by nonprofit organization Creating Hope International, Ulsh said this project “touched home for these teens, because many of the Keystone members’ parents are deployed to Afghanistan.

“Many of the children in Afghanistan have one choice — to be a soldier — so the hope is that if they go to school, they can get an occupation other than a soldier.”

Other community programs the club organized include the “Rave Against Drugs” social held Oct. 16, where youth ages 9-18 learned of the adverse effects of drugs while having fun in a social setting.

The club also organizes fundraisers at ballparks on weekends to benefit youth football teams.

“Those are the reasons the youth were recognized with the award. They are in the community, involved and doing everything Keystone club members are supposed to do,” said the Youth Center’s Director Thomas Williams.

Ulsh said each Keystone member donates between one and six hours per week to the club’s activities.

Last week’s regional conference also featured classes on various topics like peer pressure, media influence, fundraising and finding money for college.

Keystone member Shelton Price said he enjoyed each day of the three-day conference. “I think I matured a little after that (conference), which, for me, is saying a lot.”

“I learned how to set higher goals for our community service hours and how to raise more money for our club,” said Keystone member Kathleen Henley.

The club’s next fundraising activities will partly fund the club’s next conference trip.

“We will be raising money to attend the (BGCA) national conference that will be held in Pittsburg, (Penn.), in March,” Ulsh said, noting that it will cost approximately $500 per student to attend the conference.

“We have such a strong club and we feel that we have a really good chance at winning a national award, so we would like to be there to accept the award if we do win,” he added.

In the meantime, the club will host a smaller, community-focused summit in December.

“Along with myself and Drew, we will host a teen community conference at Bear Lake to discuss topics such as teen dating violence and how to stay drug-free,” Williams said.

The sessions will be taught primarily by the center’s own Keystone members, along with an advisor from the University of Phoenix, and will be directed toward local teens and the older members of the Keystone club’s younger affiliate club, the Torch club, whose members are 12 years old and younger.

Mentorship is a fundamental appeal for teens to join the Keystone club. Price said his peers in the club hold him accountable to get better grades in school. “If I don’t keep my grades up, then I can’t be in the club or go to the conferences.”

For the club’s president, Sarah Muston, mentorship also makes the club “feel like family.

“We are all military who are in the same position and know what each other are going through. We can all work together.”

For Kerri Henley, who has a real family member in the club, sister, Kathleen, she is a member of the club just for the fun aspect. “It’s a lot of fun to help people and you get to do a lot of things in representing the Youth Center.”

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