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Oklahoma City's YMCA launches youth LEAD diversity program

Leadership initiative recently held weekend retreat
BY TIFFANY BROWN Published: April 30, 2013

A new program is giving Oklahoma high school students the tools to address challenges affecting their generation.

Twenty-five adult advisers and 25 students from 12 high schools across the state came together to join Youth LEAD (Leaders Engaging Across Differences) during a weekend retreat held April 19-21 at Casady School.

Youth LEAD began as an interfaith organization in Sharon, Mass. It is a diversity program that encourages youths to reflect on their values, connect with individuals who may be different, and act together to address challenges locally and globally.

“It's not a program where adults tell (students) what to do. It's youth-led, adult-facilitated,” said Shannon Presti, the director of teen leadership initiatives for the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City.

Dearies Andrews, 17, a junior at Westmoore High School, is a part of Youth LEAD.

“I'm really excited about this program,” he said. “I've always wanted to do something like this with my peers, but I've never had the tools and the know-how.”

The program was brought to Oklahoma by The Respect Diversity Foundation, The YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City, the Council on American Islamic Relations, Casady School Service Learning and Mercy School Institute.

“Youth LEAD brings a unique cultural competency program to our community,” Presti said.

Sam Karchmer, 15, a sophomore at Heritage Hall, was involved in Youth LEAD when advisers like Presti began discussing the idea of bringing the program to Oklahoma about a year and a half ago.

“We've been talking about it for so long,” he said. “I'm now seeing very clearly all the opportunities we'll have to make a real impact and a real difference in the community.”

Tabitha May-Tolub, the associate director of Youth LEAD from Massachusetts, taught students the program basics.

Presti was alongside students as they learned how to use their voice to become leaders.

“They're so hungry to make a change in their community,” she said. “Youth LEAD gives them very intentional skill sets to put into their toolbox for life.”

Karchmer said, “We feel like we have the tools to go out in the community and make a difference.”

The teens were divided in two groups. They discussed their experiences and how they've dealt with issues such as stereotyping, bullying and suicide prevention.

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