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After a year of fundraising and more than a decade of demonstrated leadership, seven teens from the Bluffton Boys and Girls Club earned a trip to Washington, D.C.'
They joined more than 1,200 youth from across the nation to exchange ideas about leadership and discuss their futures at the National Keystone Conference titled "Leading A Powerful Change."'
"It was neat, because our kids didn't think we'd raise enough money to get there," said Lewanda Bush, Keystone Club adviser at the Boys and Girls Club. "A lot of them have been here since they were 6 years old and the club had nothing, so to go from that to this was something they really took pride in. It was a privilege for them to go."'
The teens, who range in age from 14 to 18, were chosen to be part of the Keystone Club as leaders of the Boys & Girls Club. Bush said that each of them have proven themselves through school work, service to the community and mentoring.'
Keystone is an outlet for them to develop character and leadership skills through small group meetings and community service projects. The Bluffton group has been chartered for two years now, and members meet every Wednesday. Outside of service and leadership, they focus on education and career exploration, free enterprise, social recreation and unity.'
To attend the national conference in Washington, club members had to raise a total of $4,000 through various fundraisers in the community over the past year, from car washes and bake sales to furniture and yard sales.'
Bush said the effort was long and hard for the small membership, but well worth the wait in finally getting them to the nation's capital. For many, it was their first time on a plane.'
Though a small portion of the trip was dedicated to sightseeing in the city, the bulk of the weekend was devoted to the youth learning from each other.'
"For them to see what other kids are passionate about and to hear their ideas really got their creative juices flowing," Bush said. "To get them motivated is hard work, but they had a great time. I was very impressed with how well they mingled and how open-minded they were to all the workshops."'
The conference, which was held Aug. 3-6, was divided into a variety of workshops on issues ranging from college applications and career planning to gang violence, diversity and the American dream. '
Since this was the first time the Bluffton Boys and Girls Club has been able to participate in the conference, group members said it was mostly a chance for them to garner ideas for the upcoming school year.'
"We want to come back with something to give to the conference," said Joseph Felix, 15, whose greatest lesson learned on the trip involved demonstrating leadership. "I learned that you can tell people what to do and they'll remember, but soon forget. But if you show them what to do, it'll stick in their minds."'
Ebony Hye, 15, said the conference helped the group gain more of a focus as to how to structure their still relatively new club.'
"We're not that old of a club, so it taught us how to start focusing on real issues to actually change stuff in the community," she said. "To stick with it and follow through."'
Bush said she is excited to see what they will bring to the table now that they've seen so many other teens just like them in action. Already, the group is looking forward to the next conference, which will be held in March.'
"It's up to them to make things happen," she said. "We want our kids to be highly dedicated and motivated, and this conference helped make that happen."'
To find out how to help members of the Bluffton Boys & Girls Club attend the next National Keystone Conference, contact Molly Smith at 757-2845.