From Loners to Leaders

How Phlight Club Changed the Trajectory of the Lives of Two Teens

Kimejoe Lambeth and Eugene James are 15-year-olds from rural Alaska, living on Prince of Wales Island. In most respects, they are typical teens. Eugene likes to spend time outdoors, especially hunting, fishing, and hiking; he also enjoys playing video games. Kimejoe loves to care for her many pets, take photos, and make things with her hands.

But what sets them apart is their strong commitment to making a difference in the lives of other kids, and the leadership skills they have developed and polished over the past three years by taking part in our Kaleidoscope Connect activities.

Life Before Phlight Club

When Eugene was around seven, family issues made him feel lonely, isolated, and disconnected. There were no other kids his age in his hometown, Naukati, a small village of about 150 people. “I was emotionally put down,” described Eugene. By 6th grade, he had run away from home several times and was in a downward spiral. He had built an emotional wall and couldn’t connect with people. Unable to share his feelings, he became frustrated and angry.

About that same time, Kimejoe was experiencing her own struggles in the nearby town of Hollis. She was extremely shy and didn’t believe she had anyone in her life she could depend on. She had serious physical problems with her hips that required multiple surgeries and long-term use of crutches. She felt like an outsider and sought to isolate herself from the rest of the world. She was beginning to make risky decisions that could significantly alter the course of her life.

Then in 2014, Kimejoe and Eugene met each other for the first time during a Kaleidoscope Connect Phlight Club hosted in Hydaburg, another village on the island. Phlight Clubs are intensive, multi-day, youth-centered events based on the principles and practices of Kaleidoscope Connect’s Integrative Youth Development™ (IYD). Phlight Clubs bring together teens and adults from their communities for non-stop learning, connecting, and growing. Students learn to identify adults in their lives, called Anchors, that create a Web of Support to keep them from falling through the cracks and into risk behaviors.

Phlight Club Made a Lifelong Impact

When talking with Eugene and Kimejoe, it’s clear they think about their lives in terms of “before Phlight Club” and “after Phlight Club”.

“After years of feeling isolated and lonely, I had bottled up my feelings to the point I thought I would explode,” explained Eugene. “Phlight Club made me realize that I wasn’t alone, that there were many people out there who loved and cared for me. I learned how to identify those people and reach out and ask for support. I discovered the importance of building a strong Web of Support. By the last day of Phlight Club, I felt safe enough to share my feelings, which was a huge relief. That first Phlight Club not only helped me through a rough patch, but it also had an enormous impact on the rest of my life.”

Kimejoe described a similar experience. “I went to my first Phlight Club feeling very timid and hesitant. I wasn’t much of a risk-taker, but the trust-building activities drew me out of my shell and broadened my horizons. All my life I was sure I didn’t need to rely on anyone and I was too proud ask for help. But Phlight Club helped me realize that I needed other people; I couldn’t just do it on my own.”

“My favorite memory from that Phlight Club,” recalled Kimejoe, “is a trust-building exercise where my peers picked me up over their heads so I would “fly” like Superman. I was terrified on so many levels, including being dropped on my injured hip. I didn’t think I could do it. But the other kids, under adult supervision, gathered around to make sure I would be safe, not only physically but emotionally. They created a support system that I could count on. They picked me up and I flew!  It was incredible! That feeling of excitement and accomplishment will be with me forever.”

Emerging Leaders

That was three years ago. Since then, Eugene has been to eight Phlight Clubs and Kimejoe to six. They still learn something new at each Phlight Club and continue to deepen their connections, but now they do so in leadership roles. As Phlight Club co-leaders, they help other kids – and the adults who support them – learn what it takes to become resilient young adults with thick Webs of Support.

Amy McDonald, their teacher and mentor, along with serving as a Kaleidoscope Connect regional leader, knows she can count on Eugene and Kimejoe during Phlight Clubs. “I truly rely on the fact that they are leaders among their peers,” said Amy. “I can always strategically place them to facilitate activities. They know the principles and practices inside and out, and can elicit conversations with both students and adults. The other kids really listen to and connect with them. Watching Eugene and Kimejoe grow over the years into the leaders they are today has been one of the highlights of my teaching career.”

Eugene wants to make an impact on his peers. “I look back at how Phlight Club helped me build trust and connect with others, inside and outside of school, and I want to teach other kids how they can succeed in life,” he said. “I love the atmosphere at Phlight Clubs. Everyone is so caring and connected, and I thrive on helping the kids grow, learn, and enjoy themselves. I want Phlight Club to have as big of an impact on their lives as it has on mine.”

Kimejoe agrees. “I know how much of a difference Phlight Club made for me,” she said. “Without Phlight Club I don’t think I would have made the right decisions. Who knows where I would have ended up? I want to make sure that other kids who are struggling learn that it’s okay to ask for help. When I’m co-leading a Phlight Club, I encourage kids to be open and participate, even if they are afraid. I want everyone to have a strong Web of Support.”

What the Future Will Bring

So what’s next for this dynamic duo?  They plan to continue co-leading Phlight Clubs while completing high school. They want to help as many youth as possible build connections and develop the resiliency needed to flourish in school and life. They are now also co-leading Kaleidoscope Connect Academies that teach adults the principles and practices of IYD, and even traveling outside of Alaska to make a difference in other communities, such as Seeley Lake, Montana.

After graduation, Eugene plans to attend Bible school in Florida. Kimejoe wants to be a social worker, specializing in trauma intervention, so she can give back to her community.

Wherever life takes them, Kimejoe and Eugene will always carry with them the tools and strategies they learned in Phlight Club and will make sure their Webs of Support stay strong!