When I was in high-school there was a strong peer partying culture. I didn’t drink, so I was frequently the odd man out. In 4 years I got invited to ONE party, during which I got spanked so hard it knocked the wind out of me (kids and their pranks!) and my best friend made out with the boy I had a crush on. I’m totally
not over it, by the way.
But when I look back on the period of my life from age 11-19, I don’t remember struggling to fit in or feeling like I had no friends*. I remember the YMCA Teen Leaders Club. Not to make it sound like a cult or a 12-step program, but this YMCA program was based on the 4 core values of caring, respect, responsibility, and honesty. And being awesome. If someone would ask me what the most influential experience in my entire life has been, I’d answer “Teen Leaders” without a second thought. Having been gone from the program for 10 years, you would think that my college years, study abroad, starting a business, or getting married would qualify for that top spot as well. And they do factor in the Top 5, but the number one best thing I ever did was participate in Teen Leaders. Without that experience, I never would have succeeded in college (hell, my college entrance essay was about the Leaders), had the balls to study abroad OR start a business, and I know my marriage is stronger because of the lessons the YMCA instilled in me at an early age.
I miss it – every moment of it – and maybe someday I’ll have a chance to give back in some greater way than a $5 donation to the Freedom Valley YMCA. But today I’m giving $5 and I highly encourage anyone reading this – if you have a kid, know a kid, or ARE a kid – check out Teen Leaders. It does a body, mind, and spirit good.
*Fine Print: Yes, I did have friends in high school. In case any of my high school friends are reading this and thinking “Hey!,” my purpose in highlighting Teen Leaders over high school is just to say I loved the whole of the organization, not just bits and pieces. But it should be acknowledged that my friends from my high school were the bits and pieces I did like of that experience!