Teens in Army families experience unique challenges and opportunities.

When 82 Army teens convened in Southbridge, Massachusetts, for a week in late June, they challenged themselves to narrow down their top three concerns from a broad list of issues they routinely face. Accompanied by Army Child and Youth Services program staff from their garrisons, they came from as far away as Japan, Korea and the Kwajalein Atoll, fueling the second annual World Wide Youth Leadership Forum with energy and optimism. CYS, part of the U.S. Army Installation Management Command's G9 Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation division, sponsored the event.

At the opening session, Dr. Larry Dixon, CYS school liaison/transition specialist for IMCOM G9, encouraged the teens to help each other throughout the week.

"Your job is not to be the star," Dixon said. "Your job is to build the stars. Before you can lead, you have to follow."

Collecting input from local participants on behalf of their garrisons, civic engagement and learning the democratic method were key components of the event, said Joseph Marton, CYS youth program manager for IMCOM G9. Youth attending the forum had spent time out-briefing their leadership and discussing issues with peers over the past year.

Members of the Army Teen Panel, a group of 15 teens selected by CYS staff for their leadership potential, arrived in Massachusetts several days before the rest of the youth to participate in leadership training and whittle down the list of top concerns.

On the opening day of the WWYLF, all the teens voted -- using their cell phones, a QR code and Survey Monkey -- to rate the top five issues by importance. Within minutes, the results were displayed in a bar graph for all to view. The top three issues were:
• Developing peer-to-peer relationship skills in an effort to reach those who may be contemplating emotional hurdles, thinking about suicide, stress or depression;
• Career development, specifically gaining work experience while attending high school; and
• Providing more varied, healthier snacks at garrison youth activities, along with opportunities to learn cooking skills.

Throughout the process, there was plenty of positive energy, cheering and clapping. Young leaders used phrases such as, "What I hear you saying is …" and "I saw your hand raised."

All five IMCOM directorates were represented at the gathering. Marton said the participation of IMCOM leadership gave the students more confidence about Army buy-in to their requests.

After voting on the issues, the teens next set to work creating an out-briefing of the top three issues for Col. John "Mike" Scott, IMCOM G9, Warrior and Family Support. The students wrote the out-brief, and practiced their delivery and military etiquette.

The following morning, the YLF entourage arrived at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate, where all the teens became senators for the day and conducted the brief of the top three issues. Later that day the group spent time at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and then participated in a college preparation session and walking tour of the University of Massachusetts -- Boston downtown campus.

The next day, with the out-briefing behind them, YLF teens spent time at nearby Old Sturbridge Village, a replica of a 19th-century New England village. Adults in period garb taught skills of the era, such as cooking on a fireplace hearth, wood working, blacksmithing and tin work. Farm animals and a small militia added to the atmosphere.

During the week, no time was lost. Sessions were provided for youth and adults by a variety of trainers including the Search Institute, a nonprofit organization that conducts research and develops resources, tools and practices for partner organizations to create supportive environments where young people can succeed. Objectives were to help participants learn more about why strong peer relationships matter; build relationship skills for youth-to-youth and adult-to-youth communications; and enhance developmental relationships.

Additionally, through a partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America, IMCOM benefited by having a BGCA team of trainers at the event. Additional support came from NFL Flag Football, U.S. Soccer Foundation, Junior NBA and Major League Baseball. In one exercise, teens were charged with creating a new game or activity and then teaching it to others.

The forum ended Thursday evening with the sound of farewells and the silence of tears. The groups had accomplished their mission, and they all were headed home to share what they learned with their constituents, out-brief their leadership on the top three issues for this year, and start the teen chain of communication process all over again.