by LISA CAPOBIANCO
Building leadership skills and forming positive relationships with other peers are just two of many experiences youth will have at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s National Keystone Conference.
That’s why Keystone Club members of the Boys & Girls Club of Bristol Family Center hope to raise enough funds this month to attend the conference, which will take place in Chicago next March. On Dec. 8, the Keystone Club will hold a pasta dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. with the goal of raising funds to attend the conference. Tickets are $10 a person.
The club hopes to raise a total of $2,000 so all 15 Keystone members can attend the conference.
“This year our goal is to bring everyone,” said Melissa Gurzenda, a senior at St. Paul Catholic High School, who serves as president of the Keystone Club.
The upcoming conference in Chicago will be a multi-day experience for Keystone members. From a college and career seminars to developing new skills to networking, Keystone members look forward to a variety of experiences.
Daneirys Rivera, a junior at E.C. Goodwin Technical High School, said she looks forward to meeting new people while incorporating new ideas she learned from other peers at the conference.
Besides career development, Melissa said she hopes to talk with more Keystone members across the nation to learn about how their clubs have grown. One of the Keystone Club’s goals this year was to attract more members.
“I got so much out of it the first time,” said Melissa. “We’re looking to bring in more community members so that we’re reaching our goal,” said Melissa.
Helping out the community more is something that Marlon Paltoo said he hopes to learn at the upcoming conference.
“We want to…bring in more people to help the community,” said Marlon, a senior at Bristol Central High School.
Both Melissa and Marlon attended the national conference in Texas, which they called a “life-changing experience.”
“We were able to take what we learned and apply it to our fundraisers that we’ve done lately,” said Melissa, adding how Keystone members have learned the importance of networking. “It was really interesting to find out how these different teams of Keystoners worked together.”
“There were a lot of team-building activities,” said Marlon. We got to meet a lot of people from around the United States—not just from Connecticut
Open to youth in grades nine through 12, the Keystone Club engages and socializes members with their peers from different parts of the community while allowing teens to explore relevant issues and support efforts in the Bristol Boys & Girls Club and community. Keystone members serve as ambassadors of the Club where they are needed to offer guidance to younger members.
Some of the Keystone Club’s community service projects include painting over graffiti in parks and picking up trash at Cambridge Park.
Daneirys, who has been a Keystone member for a year now, said getting involved with the Club helped further her career options while developing more skills.
“What really inspired me was how they helped everyone out and how they were so involved with the community,” said Daneirys. “I learned a lot from older peers. For them to give feedback [for] younger Keystoners is very helpful.”
Melissa joined Keystone after participating in the ArtSciencePrize program during her freshman year of high school. ArtScience Prize is an interdisciplinary education program that inspires young individuals to explore and create groundbreaking ideas around an annual scientific theme, preparing them to become the next generation of innovators.
“I wanted to give back to them, and the community of Bristol. They made such a huge difference in my life,” said Melissa, adding how joining Keystone pushed her out of her comfort zone. “We are all so different…yet we all come together because we have the same mindset that community…and service is very importance to us—that’s what builds our character.
Marlon, who has over 400 volunteer hours at the Boys & Girls Club, joined Keystone as a freshman.
He said getting involved helped him balance his school life and social life.
“It taught me how to…make me a better person overall, instead of just being an ‘A’ student,” said Marlon.
All three Keystone members also mentioned the kind of impact that their Keystone advisor, Nicole Stere, has made on the club. Stere also serves as teen director at the Bristol Boys & Girls Club.
“She brings our passion out,” said Melissa.
“She’s our backbone to everything,” added Daneirys.
The Keystone Club pasta dinner will take place on Thursday, Dec. 8, 5:30 p.m. at the Boys & Girls Club of Bristol Family Center, 255 West Street, Bristol.