Fort McCoy News August 28, 2015

Fort McCoy youth attend Army leadership forum

Public Affairs Staff

Three Fort McCoy teenagers attended the annual Youth Leadership Forum (YLF) July 13-18 in San Antonio.

YLF is a chance for Army teens to gather and discuss issues important to them. The teenagers discussed issues important at their individual garrisons and, working together, selected their top issues to present to Army leadership and submit via the Army Family Action Plan (AFAP) process. The teens also participated in activities to build team and leadership skills.

Youth complete a teamwork activity
during the Youth Leadership Forum in
San Antonio.
Photo by Cori Yahnke

Child, Youth and School Services (CYSS) staff members select which teens will travel to the forum. Representatives must be 14 to 18 years old, be active members in CYSS programs, and show leadership potential, said Cori Yahnke, director of the Fort McCoy School-Age Center/Youth Center. Teens who have attended the forum before can apply to be junior advisers.

Nick Nelmes and Kaylee Rowley represented Fort McCoy this year. Elissa Nott returned to the forum as a junior adviser.
Rowley said her favorite part of the trip was meeting new people. "No one was mean; everyone was nice and accepting," she said. "No one would push anyone away or be too shy to talk."

In addition to attending AFAP groups all week, the teens also went on field trips. One trip was to Natural Bridge Caverns, which also features a high-ropes course, zipline, and maze. Yahnke said the goal was "to push their boundaries and get them all to work together."

The teens volunteered by completing a landscape project at the Warrior and Family Support Center. Yahnke said one of the trails was overgrown with weeds after heavy rain earlier this year. "(The teens) weeded it and cut branches and cleared it out so the Soldiers could use the path again," Yahnke said.

Each night ended with recreation and reflection time for the teens to talk about what they did that day and what they got out of it. There are many benefits to attending the Youth Leadership Forum, Yahnke said.

"It helps them see the bigger picture," Yahnke said. "A lot of them know the issues they have in their own garrisons … but a lot of times they don't see the big picture — like what are the things we could change to make life better for all Army teens."

Yahnke said presenting their ideas to senior leadership, and knowing the issues will be considered at a higher level, is another benefit for participants. "They see they do have a voice and the Army really does care about the whole Family, not just the Soldier," she said.

"I feel like the YLF camp taught me a lot," Rowley said. "(I realized) a lot of people are going through the same military problems as I am."

Yahnke said one of the biggest benefits for her as a staff member is the chance to network with other CYSS professionals. "There are always questions you have at your garrison, and it gives us a chance to ask other people, 'How do you deal with this?'"
She said hearing about new programs at other garrisons also is beneficial.

"I think it also helps to see what the teens are capable of," Yahnke said. "When you look at your little group of teens, you don't think that in five days, they could go through 100 issues, bring it down to three, and then present them to leadership, but they really can.

"You get to see the potential your own kids have when you let them have responsibility," she said.

"We came up with some … good ideas, from new playing equipment to how to treat people with suicidal thoughts," Rowley said.

As this year's top three issues, the forum participants asked senior leadership for better suicide-prevention programs aimed at teens; for opportunities for more Army teens to attend national conferences, such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America's Keystone and Torch Club conferences; and for improved sports clinics for older teens.

For more information about CYSS at Fort McCoy, call 608-388-8956.