2015 Shinnyo-En Foundation Annual Retreat

From Elizabeth Koenig, Professional Development and Training Manager.

Last week I had the privilege to attend the Shinnyo-­en Foundation Annual Retreat. The retreat is designed as a meaningful opportunity to connect with people in the fields of service­-learning and youth development, and to think deeply about our own personal, cultural, and spiritual paths to service.

Throughout the weekend, Shinnyo-­en shared their Infinite Paths to Peace program, which encourages participants to explore how their talents and passions can be used to serve others.

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Leaders from the Destiny Arts Center led us through an energizing dance to get our bodies moving!

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We explored the theory of Human-­Centered Design as a way to solve complex issues by using the knowledge, passion, and creativity of the people in the room.  We looked at the drought in California and how every household in America can be engaged in conserving water.

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My group came up with the idea to develop “Water You Using?” — a reality show where households compete to decrease their water usage.

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Our home groups, comprised of 8 individuals from diverse backgrounds, worked together throughout the weekend on different activities and reflections during which we were able to share what we’re passionate about, our values, and our backgrounds.

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The entire Shinnyo­-en Retreat was a great opportunity to learn more about the work that the Shinnyo-­en Foundation, their partners, and the Shinnyo-en Fellows are conducting, as well as reflect on my own work and passion for service and youth leadership.

Thanks to the whole group for an awesome retreat!

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Onwards Down the #Youth4Ed Path

At the 2015 National Youth Leadership Training last month, the Youth4Education campaign found its Lead Activists in twenty-two young leaders ready to change their communities with service-learning. Launching with the inspiration and knowledge gathered from the experience, the #Youth4Ed Lead Activists are prepared to take action with projects geared toward advancing education equity and mitigating the factors that impede it.

“My greatest takeaway from the 2015 NYLT is that everyone has the ability to inspire change. You don’t have to just talk about doing it; you have the power to make change happen. I plan to be one of them.” — Merrit Jones (pictured center)

Youth4Education is a youth-driven solution to inequity in education. Fueled by the power of service-learning, which provides youth an active role in their own education, attending school becomes meaningful and relevant; youth apply academic skills to real problems, creating schools that become community centers of learning, where residents become resources. As our Lead Activists launch their service-learning projects, now, more than ever, #Youth4Ed needs your voice — isn’t it time you shared it?

“By the end of the 2015 NYLT, I felt as if I had been pushed out of my boundaries as a leader and out of my comfort zone. I feel like a leader who not only has big ideas, but the bravery to advocate for what I believe is right.” — Nadya Okamoto (pictured above)

You do not need to be a Lead Activist to get involved with Youth4Education. Take the #Youth4Ed Pledge — for young leaders or for their adult allies — to commit yourself, your ideas, and your passion to support initiatives in your community working to advance education equity. Like Youth4Education on Facebook and follow NYLC on Twitter to launch conversations about education equity and to share your passion with friends, family, and everyone in between. Use the #Youth4Ed hashtag on social media to demonstrate your support.

Do you know a young leader already making change in your community? Nominate them for a National Service-Learning Award to be given at Educate. Ignite. Transform., the 27th Annual National Service-Learning Conference®.

For The Youth: Growth Springs Eternal

From Grayson Carr and Alyssa Kruzel, former NYLC Promise Fellows.

With gratitude and sadness, our AmeriCorps term of service with the National Youth Leadership Council has come to an end. It has been a bittersweet parting to be sure, but we are leaving on a high note; after weeks of preparation for the week-long National Youth Leadership Training, the training itself, and then the massive amount of reflecting we have done afterward, we are closer to the NYLC team and the work than we have ever been. While we start on new adventures in partnership with young people, we will find ways to continue working with NYLC staff and Youth Advisory Council, and now Lead Activists — all of whom, to the highest degree, are pulled by the need to improve the world with young people, who take the work seriously but never take themselves too seriously. We hope our future teams are the same. As we look back over the last 10 months, here are some highlights:

National Service-Learning Conference: While we heard so much about the Conference, we were caught up in the preparation and details, Alyssa with coordinating plans for the Youth Advisory Council throughout the week, and Grayson with the preconference training for Qatar Foundation International, then Capitol Hill Day, and staff support. We had never been to a youth-centered conference where the attendees and presenters were 50/50 youth-adult.

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Service-learning: It has been nothing short of empowering to work toward a world where young students are supported and expected to affect their communities, for critical consciousness and action to not only be part of the curriculum but also for the action to be made possible — and improved by — academics, and consequently for academics to be anything but disconnected from the world. Service-learning is a successful approach for young people to create change in their salient surroundings, and when implemented at every level of a school it turns the school into a strong site of community power.

There have been challenges of course, as in every job, but having a supportive team that is willing and able to listen, adapt, and hold tough conversations has raised the bar for whatever comes next.


Alyssa Kruzel will be working as a Youth Program Coordinator for the University of Minnesota Extensions 4-H youth development programs.

Grayson Carr will be serving another year as a Promise Fellow developing education partnerships between the Minnesota Alliance With Youth and the Minnesota Department of Education.

They both hope to continue working with NYLC through partnerships in their new positions.


You can have transformative experiences like Grayson’s and Alyssa’s, too! We are currently seeking two Promise Fellows to work directly with our Youth Programs Team. Learn more and apply.

2015 NYLT Reflections: Isaiah Lewis

From Isaiah Lewis, NYLC Youth Advisory Council member.

I began working with NYLC along with 9 other youth as a member of their Youth Advisory Council one year ago. We all started our terms at the same time, and since coming together and interacting as a group at our Fall Retreat and at More Powerful Together, the 26th Annual National Service-Learning Conference® last April, we have formed a cohesive and motivated unit dedicated to furthering the reach of service-learning. Last month, the 2015 National Youth Leadership Training served as an opportunity to add more young leaders to Youth4Education – NYLC’s newly-launched campaign to end educational inequity though service-learning – in Lead Activists, and to give them the tools to execute their own service-learning projects in their home communities. On paper and in the conference calls before the training, NYLT appeared educational and informative. It looked like a chance to meet up and plan our next steps and share them. In short, it looked remarkably formal. But, thankfully, it was far from it.

For the majority of our camp, we were not “taught.” No one stood at the front of a classroom and told us how to form a service-learning project or how to recognize true problems in our communities. Instead, we were thrown into a series of physical and experiential tasks that gave us an opportunity to see the world through a lens we do not usually recognize, allowing us to not only do but to see why we did. Through numerous reflections, we taught each other about problems in our world that we could fix. That was the most striking part of NYLT. Very rarely did we have to learn with any moderation. Instead, we took the scenarios we all endured and collectively learned. We bonded together and became our own database for ideas.

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At NYLT, it seemed as if the conversations never stopped. After we would finish reflecting on the day as a large group, we regularly spread out around our space and continued talking about everything from racial boundaries to what our hometowns are like. I learned more about the people I met in camp than I have from some of my closest friends. We established an environment where we could ask anything, no matter how nervous we were, and always get an answer. An environment where, even when we were uncomfortable, we shared our thoughts. We made our own safe place, something I do not see often anywhere in this world.

NYLT was, in a word, empowering. We didn’t really learn; we experienced. We grew as people and as leaders. NYLT effectively galvanized us as a group; one ready to work together for Youth4Education. NYLT made me excited to get to work on #Youth4Ed, and turn the deep and impactful conversations we started from ideas to action.

Join us at #SLC16

We invite you to join us on our journey to change the world with young people, their schools, and their communities.

Students, educators, nonprofit professionals, and government leaders from across the country and around the world will come together at Educate. Ignite. Transform., the 27th Annual National Service-Learning Conference, Minneapolis, Minn., March 30 – April 2, 2016.

The success of this conference depends on you. There are many ways to get involved:

  • Become a sponsor. Numerous opportunities are available to support this unique event. Don’t miss your chance to connect with the educational and youth leaders of today.
  • Submit a workshop and showcase proposal. NYLC is looking for proposals that address youth leadership, skill building, and high quality service-learning. Deadline to submit is October 2, 2015.
  • Showcase your organization in the Opportunity and Resource Fair. This is where attendees can discover the latest products, services, and technologies that are transforming both in and out-of-school time around the country and learn how they can benefit students, educators, their schools, and their communities.
  • Nominate an outstanding young person or adult. NYLC honors the amazing work in the field of service-learning by presenting awards to remarkable leaders. Deadline to submit is December 4, 2015.
  • Volunteer. It takes hundreds of dedicated volunteers to make an event like this possible. From committees, to load-in, volunteers are the heart of the conference.
  • Apply for a scholarship. We have limited funds available to help cover your registration fee — apply today!
  • Make a commitment to attend. Send a group of youth and adults from your organization. 69% of our conference participants attend as part of groups, which are most often intergenerational. We are offering a group discount for groups of 10 or more!
  • Check the schedule. See what’s happening daily at the conference.
  • Visit the website for the latest news, information, and general conference information and share news about the conference with your networks, schools, and communities.

We can’t wait to see you at Educate. Ignite. Transform.

In Service,
National Youth Leadership Council

Using Service to End Domestic Violence

From Connor Kirkpatrick, NYLC Youth Advisory Council member.

This past year, after becoming a Project Manager at the Advanced Leadership Academy through Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership, I planned and implemented the Next Step Campaign: a campaign to end domestic violence within my home community in Denver, North Carolina by implementing service-learning projects and youth voice. With the help of NYLC Board Member and Director of Student Life at Lincoln Charter School Melissa Lasarsky and 24 student leaders, the campaign was a complete success through partnerships with the local Lincoln County Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

There were 3 parts to the Next Step Campaign:

  1. Stepping Up – Students were asked to step up for themselves and for domestic violence victims by learning about the issue and becoming Victim Advocates. This provess included a school-wide assembly attended by over 300 high school students where speakers from the local Lincoln County Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Rape Crisis Center came and spoke to the students about the dangers of relationship violence and what to do if you find yourself in a violent situation.
  2. Stepping Out – Students took action by participating in a service-learning project or by getting involved and donating their time or other assets. After learning photography techniques in art class, students created a photography exhibit that presented statistics about domestic violence. These photographs were paired with quotes from stories of survivors of domestic violence and hung as a display on a clothesline. This project was called The Clothesline Project. Other students organized a toy drive where families from all grades donated gently used toys to make care packages for the children of domestic violence victims. Over 45 care packages were made! Still, other students gave by giving their time in contacting businesses to sponsor the campaign. With their efforts and the generosity of Lincoln Charter School in matching all funds raised by the students, they raised over $6,000! Other students contributed through creating a social media campaign and video.
  3. Stepping Forward – The campaign ended in the first ever Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event, co-hosted by the Lincoln County Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Lincoln Charter Schools. 55 people showed their support for the campaign by walking a mile in high heels. Together, they walked forward toward a better and brighter future for the community.
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Above: An infographic created by student leaders currently in a Computer Applications course on domestic violence.

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Over 45 care packages were created by high school students who organized a toy drive. Along with all the proceeds from Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, these care packages were donated to the Lincoln County Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

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The Future – There are plans to make the Next Step Campaign a tradition at Lincoln Charter School! There are many partnerships still unexplored and service learning opportunities that can be implemented. One project I would like to see happen is to see students translate literature on domestic violence for the Hispanic community.

Something I have learned from this project is that youth voice is a powerful force. I’m so thankful for the supportive administration and community members who believed in my passion and who helped make the campaign a reality. I hope my story can serve as a testament to others! Find your passion, and do something groundbreaking with it in your community.

More information and pictures featuring the Next Step Campaign are available on the Next Step Facebook Page.

Until we change the world again,
Connor Kirkpatrick
NYLC Youth Advisory Council Member

What A Week Can Teach

From Giovanna Clemens, Youth4Education Lead Activist.

NYLT was an eye-opening experience for me. Throughout the week I was exposed to my hidden flaws; flaws that revealed themselves to be fear of rejection, accepting things as they are without question, ignoring issues, and not stepping out of my comfort zone. As the week came to an end my flaws diminished.

Immediately on the first day the thought of being rejected floated through my head. I soon came to realize that my fellow Youth4Education Lead Activists and NYLT Group Leaders were not here to judge me, but rather to help me grow. I was astonished that people who never knew me a day in their lives treated me with such high regard. I will never forget the moment I thought to myself rejection is a part of living and sometimes I have to go through it; when I am finally accepted, my greater purpose will unveil itself. When I sat there and heard everyone share their stories and witnessed people getting along I realized rejection was impossible. I am truly thankful for meeting such an amazing group of people because without them I wouldn’t be able to “speak my truth” – especially toward the people I fear talking to.

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A couple of days into camp we were all put into groups and each group faced obstacles, some more than others. My group quickly realized it was a simulation with groups split into artificial socioeconomic classes. We knew without a doubt we were the upper class and the entire simulation was surrounded by privilege. My group helped with carrying water jugs and provided water to the other groups. That was the only time I personally decided to help. I didn’t realize how unwilling I was to help. I knew I should help when others were around, but later I passed another group not even pausing to assist. I felt ashamed and began to look within myself. I was so used to being independent that when someone offered me things I accepted it and didn’t change anything. Simulation or not, I knew then and now that I need to question things and step out of the boundaries set by others. A simple “no” doesn’t satisfy me anymore. I need more. I expect more from others and myself.

Both of these experiences forced me to “be comfortable with being uncomfortable.” It was a struggle but I tackled it because I knew I needed to. I wouldn’t have grown as a person if I wasn’t given this opportunity. I can’t thank everyone of my fellow Lead Activists enough for being genuine with me and allowing me to grow. I know you will all do outstanding and succeed beyond expectations.

2015 NYLT Reflections: Choua Her

From NYLC Youth Leadership Specialist Choua Her.

Two days after I began working at NYLC as the Youth Leadership Specialist, I found myself headed to the 2015 National Youth Leadership Training in northern Minnesota for a week-long camp with fellow staff and 22 Youth4Education Lead Activists to discuss education equity and what we can do about it. And while that may seem a bit overwhelming, it turned out to be the best kind of orientation into my work!

What I experienced at NYLT was a sense of community and belonging. I was not alone in my passion for social change. I found others who were also committed to making a difference in their communities to improve the lives of young people, and, in effect, the world. One of my favorite memories was a conversation with the Lead Activists the morning after we discussed what happened during one of the activities the day before. We gave them homework that evening, which was to seriously think about and consider their reasons for participating in Youth4Education. Why were they passionate about education change?

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I didn’t want to hear a rehearsed answer that repeated what you could read in an article or hear on the news. I wanted to know their own personal connection to education equity (or inequity). How could they take what they were learning at NYLT and really create a service-learning project that would impact our broken education system? Why did that even matter? And why was it so crucial that they, as young people, be the ones to spearhead the solution?

That morning, the answers that each Lead Activist shared really showed that they were digging deep and thinking critically about what has caused our education to be so unequal and inequitable in our schools across America (and even the world). That kind of inquiry and the action that is possible from it is what makes me so excited about Youth4Education and the work I will be doing to support our Lead Activists throughout the campaign.

Summer Picnic 2015

Yesterday afternoon, NYLC staff ventured out of the office and over to Como Park in St. Paul, Minn. for the Summer Staff Picnic, an annual celebration of goals achieved and beautiful weather (our window is small in Minnesota). In true Summer fashion, the event featured lawn games that included Cornhole, Croquet, and Ladder Golf, and pitted 6 teams of 2 Staff members each against one another, first in round-robin style then into tournament play. Conference & Events Planner Jason Stewart and Youth Leadership Specialist Choua Her emerged victorious, etching their names into the Summer Victory Paddles.

The Picnic also served as a thankful farewell to Mohammed Tarawnh, who completed his year of participation with NYLC as a McCain Fellow through the McCain Institute. Mohammed is looking forward to returning to his home country of Jordan, where he will implement ideas gathered from his time in the United States to his established youth leadership work overseas. NYLC is proud to have found a life-long partner.

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Thanks to everyone out there for supporting NYLC and its mission to create a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world with young people, their schools, and their communities through service-learning! We as a Staff are grateful for the opportunity to live out that mission.

A Glimpse Into the 2015 National Youth Leadership Training

Yesterday marked the end of a week-long excursion into the north woods of Minnesota – the 2015 National Youth Leadership Training. The camp, which has decades-old roots at NYLC, brought together young people from across the United States, and even one camper from the State of Qatar. It was not NYLC’s first trek to the Audubon Center of the North Woods, where the training camp has frequently been held, but the experience was still eye-opening.

22 young leaders met as Youth Advisory Council members banded together with our Youth4Education Lead Activists for six days of self-discovery, team-building, and leadership training to lay the groundwork for impactful service-learning projects to be created and implemented by each young leader in their home communities, meant to address education inequity and the underlying factors that support it.

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Lead Activists Abbey Perl, Merrit Jones, and Grace Jin

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Before embarking on the Morals & Ethics simulation, campers defined each term as a group

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Lead Activists Antehne Tena, Fuchi Hang, and Oluwaseyi Oluwatwwon Ola

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Learn more about Youth4Education and the National Youth Leadership Training. Stay tuned to nylc.org, our Facebook, and our Twitter for project updates from each of our #Youth4Ed Lead Activists.