By Erinn BurgessJanuary 9, 2019
BAUMHOLDER, Germany - Thousands of teens gather annually at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America Keystone Conference to explore relevant issues faced by teens worldwide and develop leadership skills needed to support efforts at their local BGCA clubs and communities.
The issues and topics brought to light at the conferences come from a steering committee made up of 10 teens and their advisers, carefully selected from BGCA locations worldwide through an application process. This year, for the first time, Wetzel Keystone Club President Zeth Jackson holds a spot on that steering committee along with Wetzel Keystone Club Adviser and Teen Center Director Ryan Flynn.
Jackson, a 17-year-old senior at Baumholder Middle/High School, has been a member of Wetzel Teen Center and its Keystone Club for four years, serving as vice president before assuming his current role as president. He said the opportunity to serve on the 2019 steering committee means big things for Wetzel Keystone Club.
"This is big for us because it shows even as a small group, we can make a big impact," Jackson said. "We see things differently than bigger groups - so it's nice that we will be able to voice our opinions into bigger ideas."
Not only is Jackson representing one of the smaller BGCA groups, he's also one of the only military-affiliated members on the teen committee, and the sole overseas member. Flynn said this allows Jackson to bring a different insight to the team.
"It's nice for the national committee staff to hear what issues the overseas teens are facing. It's a whole different population when you're dealing with overseas military youth compared to traditional youth club settings in the States," Flynn explained.
Jackson along with the other nine committee members are the youth who determine the theme of the conference, what activities will take place on- and off-site, and which teen issues the activities will center around. In order to get the process started, Jackson and Flynn attended a planning meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, in November.
"We made the outline for the conference - what is needed and who will be doing what job - now the BGCA staff are going to take what we put together and make it happen," Jackson explained.
The BGCA staff leave the majority of the planning to the teens because they want them to find their voices, sparking future leaders or future Keystone advisers among them, Flynn said.
Flynn, who is serving for the first time as an adviser on the steering committee, brings a wealth of knowledge to the team having served as Wetzel Keystone Club adviser for five years and a previous Keystone Conference attendee. He praised the club members for their efforts in getting the club recognized on a national level.
"The youth have put in a large amount of work to get our Keystone Club to where it is -- hours of community service and a lot of planning," he explained. Even as a small group, the club has been largely involved with the local communities, including activities such as visiting German teen centers for networking opportunities and baking cookies for the Fisher Houses at Landstuhl.
"Everyone wants to have a voice but it's also good to put some action behind that voice and get out there and do things and change the world that way," Flynn said. "Service learning and networking is really important. It can ignite a spark for youth and then they take it farther."
In Jackson's case, that spark was ignited at the 2018 Keystone Conference and led him to pursue the leadership role for 2019. Community service work, making friendships and networking were the biggest takeaways for him, along with spreading awareness to issues teens around the world are facing. His hopes for the 2019 conference fall in line with his 2018 experience.
"I hope everyone that attends the conference this year has the best time, and I hope they take the teen issues back to their centers and spread awareness so we can try to help the teen issues on a huge scale," Jackson said. "If the attendees take what they've learned back to their clubs and start talking about it, it allows others that didn't get to attend the conference to see that it's an amazing experience so that the conference can grow. I'd like to see it grow."
Keystone Club is available to youth ages 14 and older at all military teen centers overseas. To find out more, contact your local teen center.