By Ross Markman
It's not often that a 14-year-old is the selling point to a group of more than two dozen adults. But then again, not every 14-year-old can captivate a crowd of parents, community leaders and school officials like Angela Schilz did Wednesday night at the Hill County Electric Cooperative.
Schilz, along with eight other teenagers from Red Lodge, was in Havre to promote a 40-question survey that asks kids to identify assets in their lives. And maybe more significantly, Schilz said, it encourages youth and adults to work together.
Efforts are under way by the Rev. Brad Ulgenes, pastor at First Lutheran Church in Havre, and Dick Timm of the Lutheran Brotherhood to bring the 50-minute survey to seventh- through 11th-graders in Havre Public Schools next month.
"We're convinced that positive youth development is really very important," Timm told the attending public. "Everyone can be an asset builder in Havre, Montana."
"If given a chance, youth are willing and able to share leadership and responsibility," she said.
Schilz is one of 19 members 12 teenagers and seven adults on the Red Lodge Youth Council. For the last three years, the group has worked to develop Red Lodge as a model community for youth by generating a communitywide plan to prioritize the needs of young people.
Along with parents and about a half-dozen Havre high-schoolers, Wednesday's meeting drew Havre Mayor Bob Rice, Havre Public Schools Superintendent Kirk Miller, high school principal Jim Donovan and Hill County Commissioner Doug Kaercher.
The youth council delivered a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation, and later broke the room into four discussion groups.
"I thought the meeting was very good. The students from Red Lodge did an excellent job of showing leadership skills," Miller said today. "We have the same quality kids here in Havre."
"The kids in general were very well received with how this process can work," Kaercher said.
"I was quite impressed in the breakout sessions with their ability to speak. One was an eighth-grader and one was a freshman," he added. "We have kids of that same caliber here. We just need to tap into it. (The asset survey) is a good starting point."
Led by Rice, a committee including representatives of the school district, the Human Resources Development Council, Hi-Line Boys and Girls Club, the Havre Ministerial Association and the Mental Health Awareness Group will now meet to decide if the Havre students should be administered the survey.
Since 1996, more than 1.5 million teenagers have taken the survey, which asks kids questions about their integrity, values, and sense of responsibility and purpose in life. The average teen, according to survey results, has 18 assets or positive influences in their lives.
Once the survey is completed, kids are responsible for increasing the number of assets they have if they choose.
The idea is to increase a teen's number of assets, while reducing the chance he or she will be at risk, Timm said. High-risk behaviors, according to the Search Institute, the nonprofit organization that conducts the survey, include alcohol and drug abuse, sexual activity and violence.
About 8 percent of kids surveyed have 31 to 40 assets, Timm said.
"We're here to support what's currently here, not to replace," he said. "It may give the community some focus."
Rice welcomes it.
"This is a program I think is long overdue for Havre," he said. "I lived in 10 different states during my Navy career, and I found that most kids develop and become assets to the community. It's surprising what a little bit of attention to a child will do."
The key, Schilz said, is to give teens a say in the decisions that affect them. There are three types of youth participation, she said things done with kids, things done for kids and things done to kids.
The idea is for adults to establish partnerships with teens, rather than treating them as objects or recipients in the decision-making process, she added.
John Poore, an adult member of the youth council, concurred.
"The thing we're really trying to put forth is involving young people," he said. "We're not listening to 25 percent of our population."