For nearly a decade, Jennie “JenJen” McLean has been involved with Kaleidoscope Connect through our Academies that teach adults the principles and practices of Integrative Youth Development (IYD), and Phlight Clubs which are multi-day, life-changing youth development events.
JenJen recently sat down to discuss the impact Kaleidoscope Connect has had on her and the youth in her life.
Q: JenJen, tell me about yourself.
A: I have lived in Fairbanks, Alaska my entire life. I knew from an early age that I liked kids and wanted to be involved in their lives. I connected with the kids. I understood their challenges and aspirations. I live to nurture young people, validate them, and make an impact on their futures.
Q: How long have you been participating in and supporting students through Phlight Clubs?
A: Since 2008, when I worked at Yukon-Koyukuk School District (YKSD). My colleague and mentor, Andrea Durney, told me about an upcoming Phlight Club that the district was hosting for teens from our middle and high schools, and invited me along.
During that first Phlight Club, my primary role was to feed and nurture the 50+ students who attended. After I saw the power of Phlight Club and how it affected the kids who attended, I became a part of the team.
Over the next 8 years, I have attended 16 Phlight Clubs, first as an adult co-leader and then as a facilitator.
Q: In what ways have you seen Phlight Club and the IYD principles and practices impact youth and adults in their communities?
A: Phlight Club changes the way teens see themselves.
Kids in YKSD live in small villages and are raised not only by parents, but also by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends. Phlight Club shows them how important it is to maintain those relationships, and it deepens their sense of pride about who they are and what they are capable of. It supports them in growing family, school, and community bonds. And, from this, their self-esteem rises.
If kids are “thinly-webbed” (lacking a strong support system), Phlight Club teaches them how to “grow their balloons” (develop resilience and self-esteem) and strengthen their webs of support by giving them the confidence to reach out to caring adults (Anchors) to connect and develop special bonds.
I’ve witnessed quiet, reluctant, and vulnerable kids walk into a Phlight Club looking terrified. Within hours, these same kids have bonded with their peers, made friends and connected with Anchors.
We adults are all impacted by witnessing the rapid transformation in the kids, and realizing the role that we, as adults, can play in their development.
The mindset that teens adopt doesn’t disappear when Phlight Club ends. I see kids outside of Phlight Club on a regular basis, in various community settings. Even kids who attended years ago, still talk about their experience and how they have maintained strong connections to this day. They leave equipped with tools that propel them into adulthood.
Q: How have you personally been affected by what you've learned through Phlight Club and Academy training.
A: I’ve been affected both personally and professionally. It has changed me.
Through the Academies and Phlight Clubs, a whole new world was opened for me. I learned that I, too, need a strong web of support and I gained the courage to seek Anchors and develop my leadership skills. I’ve learned that by helping kids grow their balloons, my own balloon also grows.
Being a Phlight Club leader has reinforced and validated my nurturing skills and love for helping youth. It has provided me with a framework and setting to refine and apply my skills and see, first hand, how students’ lives are improved.
I now arrange my entire life and my schedule around my involvement in Phlight Clubs.
Q: What are three key or important reasons you think that a YOUTH should get involved with Phlight Club?
A: Phlight Clubs wake kids up. They begin to understand that they are not “broken” and they learn how to build their webs of support. They develop the self-confidence and resilience they need to avoid risk-taking behaviors and to thrive. The effect on teens is permanent.
There are so many reasons why youth should get involved, but if I had to pick three they would be:
- Seeing themselves and others in “Full Color”: recognizing what makes them unique, resilient and successful in life.
Q: What are three key or important reasons you think that an ADULT should get involved with Phlight Club and Kaleidoscope Academies?
A: There are so many teens in our communities who need more Anchors. Getting involved with Phlight Club not only helps improve the lives of the youth who attend, but it also teaches the adults how to effectively communicate and connect with them.
I can’t count the number of kids I’ve Anchored over the years, but I can tell you that I have gained as much as I have given. The Academies have helped me take my knowledge of youth development to the next level.
Three reasons to get involved are:
- Making a measurable difference in the lives of children
- Growing family connections
- Strengthening community ties
Q: Any last words you would like to say?
A: In my ideal world, all children would have a chance to attend at least one Phlight Club in their lives. Our youth would be much better equipped to thrive amid the constant yet unpredictable changes and challenges they face. Wouldn’t we all love to see our communities filled with kids who are healthy, happy, and productive?