The Character Movement

It Takes a Village

At Youth Frontiers, we recognize that at the root of our success is partnership. Without the support and commitment of donors, educators, parents and students our goal to build community and inspire character would not be possible. Youth Frontiers’ partnership with Douglas County (DC) West Middle School, in Omaha, Neb., exemplifies the difference that can be made when we are united to change the way kids treat each other in every hallway, lunch line and classroom of every school in America.

In April 2014, thanks to support from the Parent Teacher Student Association, DC West fifth graders experienced their first Kindness Retreat®. The day was a huge hit with the students, but the middle school’s guidance counselor sensed they needed more.

“I know that from experience if we don’t reinforce what kids get in one day, even though it’s exciting and thrilling, it’s not going to stick,” Debbie Finnicum said. She wanted to be able to give her students something to look forward to, something that would serve as another touchpoint for the school community.

The following school year, DC West received the Youth Frontiers Omaha Scholarship. This fund, comprised of gifts from generous donors and foundations in Omaha, allowed DC West to experience a Courage Retreat® for their seventh graders, in addition to another Kindness Retreat, providing the follow-up Debbie sought for her school.

By the end of this school year, Youth Frontiers will have worked with nearly 400 students at DC West since their first retreat in April 2014.

Now in the fourth school year of partnership with DC West, YF retreats have grown in number ­and in impact. Debbie recalled two instances that reinforce how retreat experiences change students’ lives for the better.

One boy – very well liked – promised through tears at a Courage Retreat to treat others better. He went home and told his parents about his new determination to change his behavior, and they, taken aback, wrote to Debbie to express their gratitude. Another retreat helped a student find the bravery to seek out a more positive friend group – and prompted those new friends to invite the student to sit with them at lunch.

YF retreats don’t single-handedly build children’s character. It takes community effort. What we do works because student leaders, parents and teachers step up and reinforce ideas the retreats present. Our donors also help keep these retreats affordable for all schools. Now because of the community’s effort, YF’s mission is moving in profound ways in Nebraska.

“I think the biggest thing is helping kids to realize that you don’t have to be friends with everybody, but you do have to be nice and you do have to respect,” Debbie said. “The kids are more willing to stand up for what’s right, more willing to show courage.”

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