The local program would be a modified version of the Youth Academy launched by the city of Great Bend 13 years ago. Today, more than 1,100 students have participated in the one-day event held each summer.
Academy participants get to see many aspects of the city not usually available to the general public, including a hands-on tour of individual departments within the city. It also allows participants to ask questions and have lunch with the mayor and city council members. Department personnel provide fun activities at each station that relate to their area of service.
While Great Bend runs three sessions of the academy each summer, with 40 students in each session, Hillsboro would begin its program with two sessions of 15 to 20 students, according to Ashlee Gann, executive director of Family And Communities Together.
Gann is a member of the organizing committee along with Seibel and City Administrator Larry Paine.
“We’re a lot smaller and we don’t want to get in over our heads the first time,” Gann said.
Now that the council has approved the concept, the program will be presented next to the USD 410 Board of Education. If the school board signs off on it, organizers plan to make a general presentation to sixth and seventh-grade students early this spring, collect applications from students interested in participating, then select the participants for the two one-day sessions, which are planned for June and July of next year.
Gann said the intention of the program is to involve students at every achievement level. To accomplish that, organizers plan to ask for input from teachers and administrators as applications are reviewed.
Gann projected an initial expense of $2,000 to get the program off the ground. The cost includes a T-shirt for every participant as well as meals, snacks and other supplies.
As part of its decision, the council authorized $250 from the city’s Special Parks Fund toward that end. The remaining funds will come from donations.
“We definitely want this to be a community-wide program, so we want to take donations from different groups and agencies in the Hillsboro community,” Gann said. “We already have some commitments.”
A key component of the plan at Great Bend, and planned for Hillsboro, is to have an alumni party each year with past participants.
“We don’t want them to go through this program and then forget about it,” Gann said. “We want to bring them back year after year for reinforcement, to reflect on their experience and to remember they can still come back and work here when they’re done with high school and college.”
Maintaining that connection continues beyond high school. Great Bend representatives have traveled to state college campuses to meet with local students.
“They’ll do like a focus group, have a little conversation about what’s happening in their home town, find out how well they’re doing and what they want to do later,” Paine said. “And they direct them back to employment situations in Great Bend.
“As we develop this thing, that would be an objective we’d like to have happen.”
Seibel said the Hillsboro Youth Adventure addresses two of the four “pillars” of the city’s plan for economic development: youth engagement and leadership development.
“We believe it’s essential that we have people who understand that for our area to prosper, we have to have volunteers—people who will step up and be leaders in different areas,” he said. “Our mayor needs a lot of volunteers and she calls on them often.”
Seibel said leadership development begins during the middle-school years, too, by developing awareness.
“What happens today is that we’re raising a whole generation of people who don’t know anything about the ‘behind-the- scenes,’” he said. “They buy milk in a carton and don’t know it comes from cows. They switch on their lights and don’t know that the city has a whole department for electric. They flush the toilet and don’t know about the sewer department.
“We’d like to give our young people kind of a behind-the-scenes look at our city departments and commissions,” Seibel added. “Who knows about a tree board, let alone about the city council? That’s something our young people, and even a lot of us older people, don’t always know about.”
Gann said the impact of the program will affect more than just the students themselves.
“This is something that will get the kids excited, but also their family excited,” she said. “As a parent, if your child is excited about something, you’re bound to get excited about it. There’s no telling what kind of conversations could happen at home.”
Paine said Great Bend reports some tangible results from the program. For example, one alum came back from college to work at the city pool as a lifeguard, then as pool manager, and today is employed by the city.
“What we want to do with our youth-engagement program is to make sure young people who grow up here think they have a future in Hillsboro,” Paine said. “If we supply them with a mechanism for this, we can help them develop a job for them and be here and raise a family.”