Students ‘unite’ in effort to give back to community

By LISA CAPOBIANCO
STAFF WRITER
For Bobby Roberge of Bristol, joining the United Way Youth Board gave him the opportunity to grow into a self-confident leader.
Now a senior at Bristol Central High School, Bobby said getting involved with the Youth Board not only played a role in his high school transition, but also allowed him to work collaboratively with other students.
Serving on the Youth Board since freshman year, Bobby said getting involved served as a stepping stone through his high school transition.
“It has opened my eyes to becoming more interactive with my peers,” said Bobby, who sits near board members of other schools like St. Paul Catholic High School. “You get to meet so many different kinds of people.”
“It’s not only a great chance to get involved, but also a great chance to collaborate with [other kids your own age] on a whole,” added Sarah Bowes, junior at St. Paul Catholic High School. “You sit with different people at every meeting.”
Formed in 1998, the United Way Youth Board consists of students and faculty advisors from each of the United Way of West Central Connecticut’s six area schools, including Bristol Eastern, Bristol Central, Terryville, Plainville, St. Paul Catholic, and Lewis S. Mills high schools. The group meets monthly to discuss the social and human service needs of the community.
The Youth Board aims to assess issues that affect the youth community, prioritize the projects to tackle, and to create a plan to achieve its goals, according to the Youth Board’s brochure. From participating in the Children’s Holiday Parade and ringing the Salvation Army bell during the holidays to holding  For Bobby Roberge of Bristol, joining the United Way Youth Board gave him the opportunity to grow into a self-confident leader.
Now a senior at Bristol Central High School, Bobby said getting involved with the Youth Board not only played a role in his high school transition, but also allowed him to work collaboratively with other students.
Serving on the Youth Board since freshman year, Bobby said getting involved served as a stepping stone through his high school transition.
“It has opened my eyes to becoming more interactive with my peers,” said Bobby, who sits near board members of other schools like St. Paul Catholic High School. “You get to meet so many different kinds of people.”
“It’s not only a great chance to get involved, but also a great chance to collaborate with [other kids your own age] on a whole,” added Sarah Bowes, junior at St. Paul Catholic High School. “You sit with different people at every meeting.”
Formed in 1998, the United Way Youth Board consists of students and faculty advisors from each of the United Way of West Central Connecticut’s six area schools, including Bristol Eastern, Bristol Central, Terryville, Plainville, St. Paul Catholic, and Lewis S. Mills high schools. The group meets monthly to discuss the social and human service needs of the community.
The Youth Board aims to assess issues that affect the youth community, prioritize the projects to tackle, and to create a plan to achieve its goals, according to the Youth Board’s brochure. From participating in the Children’s Holiday Parade and ringing the Salvation Army bell during the holidays to holding  forums on peer pressure and suicide to taking part in the personal care items drive for a homeless shelter, the students have delved into a number of different projects to make an impact on the communities they serve.
Sarah said her favorite project so far has been volunteering her time to take part in United Way’s Adopt-A-Child Back to School Program, which supplies children in need with backpacks equipped with supplies.
“I wanted to volunteer more and to give back to the community,” said Sarah, who has been a Youth Board member for two years now.
Sarah added another aspect of the Youth Board she has enjoyed is its annual forum. This past March, the Youth Board’s forum, called “What Drives Success,” featured a number of community speakers, including Bristol City Councilor Calvin Brown, Mary Kay representative Olivia Mazzarella, and over several others.
Held at Nuchie’s and sponsored by Comcast, the forum brought in over 100 student attendees.
“The forum is a great way to get everyone involved,” said Sarah, adding how she learned to be a better leader after attending the forum.
Before members join, advisors recruit students from their schools to be part of the Youth Board and oversee their activities during the school year. Although advisors are there to facilitate if students need help, the students do most of the work themselves. Since issues in the young community constantly change and evolve, projects tackled by the Youth Board change every year.
Josh Krampitz has served as an advisor at Lewis Mills for 10 years now and is the longest-serving advisor for the Youth Board so far. After being involved with the Youth Board for 10 years, Krampitz said he has enjoyed seeing the growth of students who become members.
“It’s fantastic to see them develop leadership skills and relationships with other schools,” said Krampitz. “I hope they take away the realization that working together, they can make their community a better place.”
Youth Board members run the monthly meetings at United Way, and each month a different school takes a turn at hosting a meeting, which entails an opening ice-breaker, creating an agenda, and facilitating, said Mary Lynn Gagnon, vice president of donor relations at United Way of West Central Connecticut. Students work with his or her school advisor and fellow youth board members before the meeting. Recently, Lewis Mills hosted a Youth Board meeting where members worked together to brainstorm ideas for the next forum. From coping with stress to texting and driving, to achieving success in college, students discussed a variety of topics that held resonance for them. After narrowing down their top five choices, the Youth Board as a whole agreed a forum about success after high school may be the best theme. The Youth Board plans to make a final vote at its next meeting later this month.
Gagnon said 30 students serve on the Youth Board during this school year. She said each student is chosen by the school advisor, who looks for youth board members who “have the potential for leadership skills,” and the time to attend meetings.
Gagnon said watching the students transform from the time they join the Youth Board sophomore year to the time they graduate is rewarding. UWWCCT logo new jpg web ready