United Way honors Oceana County Leadership Lab teens

Posted on

Three cheers are in order for four Oceana County teens whose volunteer efforts were recently recognized by United Way of the Lakeshore in west Michigan.

Aubriana Foster, Zen Jones, Sova Jones, and James Galindo received the Student Volunteer of the Year award at the United Way of the Lakeshore’s annual awards banquet in April. The four teens all participated in the Oceana County Leadership Lab, a collaborative program between the American Youth Foundation and the Community Foundation of Oceana County. The awards ceremony recognizes “everyday heroes in the community who make our Lakeshore a better place to live, work, learn and play.”

Sara Sherwood, Community Engagement Coordinator for United Way of the Lakeshore, said the the Oceana Youth Leadership Lab lives up to its name.

“These young citizens of Oceana County see that they have a place to lead others to do good in their community. They met through attending the National Leadership Conference, and they were encouraged by the AYF to organize and establish the Leadership Lab. This allowed them to use their knowledge of the community and what they have seen to begin to implement projects to create positive change,” Sherwood said. “They believe in starting with small acts of kindness and building from there, recognizing that positivity builds exponentially. They seek to make a positive impact whenever they can, knowing that small act can create large ripples.”

Michael Harter, Director of Conferences, Community and School Programs, said the leadership labs bring the AYF values and programs into the wider community. During this partnership with Oceana County students, the teens created and implemented plans to collect personal hygiene and medical products for those living at a domestic violence shelter.

These leadership labs are more than just service projects, Harter said. “Community programs like this one help youth discover their capacity for leadership, which can be learned and practiced. These leadership lab partnerships open a world of possibility to youth who didn’t know it existed before.”

The teens have also previously participated at National Leadership Conference participants.

Harter said he was thrilled the west Michigan community chose to recognize these young leaders. “Zen, Sova, Abrianna, and James all took the values of the AYF to heart,” he said. “In such a short time, they grew in leadership and learned firsthand how they can make an impact on their community. The more the AYF can work with partners like the Community Foundation of Oceana County, the wider the ideas of best self, and balanced living, and positive community can spread.”

Since completing the project earlier this year, the group has continued to serve their community with former AYF staff member Katana Valle Sloane mentoring the group. They are currently planning a concert to raise money for an Oceana County pet shelter.

“While this organization is relatively new, they have spared no time in getting started with their acts of kindness,” Sherwood said. “The Oceana Youth Leadership Lab not only wants to grow their programming and impact on the community, but they also want to grow from within. They are currently seeking out new members to grow their ranks and create more positive change across Oceana County. They truly believe they can create a stronger community by being better together.”