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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

“It felt like we had all known each other for so long,” Karchmer said.

It didn't matter whether students came from private schools, underprivileged neighborhoods, or what their faith and ethnicity was, they each bonded by telling their stories, he said.

“It's really amazing that we all sat down, opened up and started talking about our experiences,” Karchmer said.

Presti said, “This youth-led initiative empowers teens to communicate effectively about diverse and often difficult topics.”

Andrews was skeptical at first.

“I wasn't expecting to be able to open up about race, religion and other difficult issues,” he said.

He added that he was amazed at how easy it was to share stories among a group of peers who had only known each other for a few hours.

Students said part of what helped them was recognizing what they each have in common.

“They realized that they are so much more united by their similarities than divided by their differences,” Presti said. “Until we sit down and have a conversation, we don't realize how much we have in common with the world.”

The launch of Youth LEAD in Oklahoma City will be the first step in making it a national program.

If you can instill the youth with a sense of respect for one another, when challenges arise they will have the courage to speak out instead of cowering back, Andrews said.

Karchmer spoke about what the group hopes to achieve.

“We all have one goal. And that is to reach across the table and make a difference in this community we share,” he said. “We all live in this community, so let's work together to make it better.”

There is no cost for students or schools to participate in Youth LEAD. Students must commit to monthly meetings and attend yearly training.

For more information on Youth LEAD, contact Shannon Presti at 297-7728 or