Youth Ambassadors work to encourage incoming freshmen

Entering high school is an intimidating prospect in a normal year. And as the 2020-21 school year looms closer, it’s easy to see how incoming freshmen could become overwhelmed with questions about e-learning, social distancing, face masks and possibly abnormal schedules.

With that in mind, the Council for Youth Development’s 2020-21 Youth Ambassadors have decided to send inspirational messages to about 1,200 incoming freshmen in Bartholomew County.

“This project gained momentum with the help of current youth ambassador and Columbus East High School sophomore Macey Golden,” the council said in a recent press release. “She received a national grant from America’s Promise Alliance as a part of the Power of Youth Challenge.”

According to the release, this project is a part of the CYD’s annual Shine On postcard campaign, where 8,000 free postcards (designed by local teens) are shared throughout Bartholomew County to celebrate United Nations International Youth Day on Aug. 12. According to CYD’s website, Youth Ambassadors will help distribute Shine On postcards on United Way Backpack Day.

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Golden, along with 18 other Bartholomew County students in grades 10 through 12, was selected to be a 2020-21 Youth Ambassador in April of 2020.

CYD director Heather Carson said students were nominated by community leaders from schools and “other organizations that serve and support young people in Bartholomew County.” Nominated students were then invited to apply to become Youth Ambassadors.

“We were looking for diverse young people that may not have the opportunities,” Carson said. “They have the skills, they have the will but may not have had the opportunity to get engaged in community work for whatever reason.”

She also said that since the previous year was sort of a pilot for the Youth Ambassador Program, the 2019-20 ambassadors were invited to return. There is one returning ambassador; Ryleigh Bateman, a rising junior from Columbus North High School.

According to the press release, the Youth Ambassador Program is “designed to engage a diverse group of teens to develop their leadership skills, unique talents, and use their voice to impact Bartholomew County.”

The 2020-21 Youth Ambassadors have been meeting virtually, about once a week, since April, with a couple of weeks off at the end of the school year.

“I was so impressed to see all twenty Youth Ambassadors attend our first virtual meeting in April. It reflected their level of commitment from the start,” said Sara Donathen-Smith, CYD Youth Ambassador Coordinator in a statement. “And they shared their genuine concerns to those who were affected by COVID-19, including their peers, the elderly, and homeless individuals in our community. I think the diversity of this group brought these wide range of perspectives.”

According to the CYD website, in addition to working on and promoting the Shine On campaign, the 2020-21 ambassador’s projects for the year also include promoting the Youth Empowerment Summit by creating a t-shirt design and making a video on the summit’s 2020 theme, “Ignite Your Spark.”

“Everyone has their spark, that’s one of the things that make individuals special. Finding one’s spark could be a life-changing event,” said 2020-21 Youth Ambassador Forest Steele in a statement. Forest, an incoming senior from Hauser Jr.-Sr. High School, led the summit t-shirt design committee.

The annual summit, according to CYD, was launched in 2018 and is “a week-long series of public events designed to spark community conversation and youth engagement,” and during the summit, “participating community partners host free events around a common theme.”

Carson said that this year’s summit is set for Sept. 14-18 and will feature more virtual programming than years past, such as an online screening of the documentary “Like,” followed by a live panel discussion with the filmmaker featuring questions crafted by the ambassadors.

“We have opportunities, even with this pandemic, to really provide ways for young people to connect right now,” Carson said. “I think we just, as the community, need to step outside of a traditional way of thinking about things. And if kids can work on projects and get engaged with the community online, virtually, in safe, responsible ways, we should step up as a community to provide those opportunities for them.”

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This year’s Youth Ambassadors are:

  • Ryleigh Bateman. 11th grade, Columbus North High School. (Returning ambassador).
  • Chelsea Burton. 12th grade, Columbus East High School.
  • Jacob Clark. 10th grade, Columbus East High School.
  • Olivia Clark. 12th grade, Columbus East High School.
  • Macey Golden. 10th grade, Columbus East High School.
  • Carlos E. Fabian. 11th grade, Columbus North High School.
  • Abe Fuller. 12th grade, Columbus North High School.
  • Lillian Landis. 10th grade, Columbus North High School.
  • Diana Hernandez Ortiz. 12th grade, Columbus North High School.
  • Joanna Hernandez. 12th grade, CSA New Tech High School.
  • Natalie Hormann. 11th grade, CSA New Tech High School.
  • Thessalonica Johnson. 12th grade, Columbus East High School.
  • Valeria Juarez. 12th grade, Columbus North High School.
  • Graham Kennedy. 11th grade, Hauser Jr.-Sr. High School.
  • Lillian Mackey. 11th grade, Columbus North High School.
  • Stefani Ortiz. 12th grade, Columbus North High School.
  • Christopher Quisenberry. 11th grade, Columbus East High School.
  • Kathrine Redding. 12th grade, Columbus North High School.
  • Sadhna Srikanth. 10th grade, Columbus East High School.
  • Forest Steele, 12th grade. Hauser Jr.-Sr. High School.

A video introducing the new ambassadors and their interests can be viewed here.