Hurley group presents at development conference

 

IRON COUNTY representatives Felicia Herlevi, center, and Tate Guenard talk with an audience member Tuesday at the Community Development Society and National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals 2017 conference was held in Big Sky, Mont. The pair, along with Youth Development Educator Neil Klemme, presented on Iron County's trailhead design project at the conference.

HURLEY - Iron County was recently represented at an international conference, as members of the Iron County University of Wisconsin-Extension Office and a Hurley student presented on ways the county has involved its youth in community development projects.

The Community Development Society and National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals 2017 conference held in Big Sky, Mont., ended Wednesday.

"We were there for the project we did in October with the trailhead designs," UW-Extension Youth Development Educator Neil Klemme said. "We were in a block of presenters talking about engaging young people and getting young people involved in that type of work."

The trailhead design project was a day-long event with the UW-Extension Community Vitality and Placemaking Team that led to sketched designs of two trailheads. The first, located between the Montreal River and U.S. 51, roughly parallel to Silver Street, will be between the motorized and non-motorized trails running from Michigan. The other will be located in Montreal.

The students creating the plans included a range of features in the trailheads, ranging from parking and pavilions for shelter to playgrounds and basketball courts.

The project won the "Outstanding Team" award from the Wisconsin Extension Environmental and Community Development Association earlier this year.

Klemme said he and Community Natural Resource and Economic Development Educator Amy Nosal had considered applying to take part in the national conference; but then realized that given the topic, it would make sense to include some of the high school students actually involved in the project.

Klemme brought Hurley student Tate Guenard to present on his experience with the trailhead design day, while Felicia Herlevi talked about some of the earlier youth engagement efforts that led to the trailhead design day.

Herlevi, a 2015 Hurley High School graduate, is attending the University of Minnesota majoring in speech language sciences. She participated in a number of extension youth programs while at HHS and is working at the extension office this summer as an assistant.

"Felicia has done a lot of the other stuff we've done in the past, like the first impressions (surveys). She was there for the background work, so I thought it was a good fit for her too," Klemme said.

Guenard will be a senior at Hurley this fall.

Speakers at the conference came from as far away as Africa and Europe.

Each of the four groups had roughly 20 minutes to present, although according to Klemme, many in the audience stayed after to talk to the kids about the experience.

"We ended up staying after for 20 minutes to a half hour because so many people wanted to talk (about the presentation)," he said.

Klemme said he has presented at the conference several times, and while people always talk about how great it would be to include young people, it usually doesn't actually happen.

"One woman even said to me, 'You know, this is a really expensive conference and your presentation made it worth the price of admission,'" Klemme said.

Klemme said one of the points Guenard and Herlevi made regarding the importance of youth involvement was that when they return to Hurley in the future, they will always be able to point at the trailhead and say they had a hand in designing it.

Herlevi said while it was her first time presenting at an international conference, she was surprised to learn not everyone had successfully engaged youth as much as Iron County has.

"I was really surprised how (the others groups) were presenting on how to get youth involved, and some of them were doing longitudinal studies on how to get youth involved and what makes them want to be involved," she said. "And here Neil is - we go up and present and we have youth there. Start to finish, youth was involved and this was the final product. That was really impressive. I just assumed everybody else did the things Neil did, and they don't."

Klemme said the opportunities for students presented in projects like the first impression trips - where students visit a community for the first time to give feedbacks on its positives and negatives - and presenting at conferences is it allows the young people to think about not only how to improve their own communities, but also each of their community's existing strengths.

"Everybody can always come up with the negatives of their community, the things they hate. But can you help them identify the things they love about it, because most kids like their community, so how do we connect them to the positives rather than the negatives," Klemme said.

He argued the trip also benefits the students individually, giving them new experiences and allowing them to network and build social capital.

"The increase in social capital gives people more power. I think giving young people these opportunities ... gives them more clout and more influence," Klemme said. "Those connections to adults are things they can use in everyday life, I write a lot of recommendations but I think it's beyond that ... kids are really taken seriously from participating in things like this."

One example of this social capital was an invitation to address an upcoming conference in Missouri that came as a result of the conference.

In addition to attending the conference, the group explored the surrounding area - including Bozeman, Mont., to see how the city incorporates its natural assets.

"They really promote their natural assets, and I thought that was a good connection to what we do and the trail work we're doing, connecting young people to the assets they have here," Klemme said.

"We had fun too. We got to go to Yellowstone for the day, and cruise around Yellowstone. They ran out of compact cars, so they gave us that really nice Dodge Challenger," Klemme joked. "Tuesday, it snowed all day."

 
 

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