LAYL participants see benefits all year round

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Deadline > Last chance to sign up for the next LAYL program is July 18

By Gina Velasquez

Another school year will begin in the next couple of months and so will a new batch of participants in the Los Alamos Youth Leadership program.
Sponsored through the Family YMCA and the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board, the year-long program consists of several different projects each year where high school students can participate in activities around and for the community.
The First Step Orientation will take place on Aug. 3-4, which will be an overnight camping event at Camp Shaver. Sean Hall will lead the team building session the first day. The following day will be a physical challenge for the students to break out of their comfort zones.
Throughout the year, different projects are presented with several high school students serving as team leaders.
Every year kicks off with a fundraiser car wash and bake sale. The event, which happens in September, is the starting point for raising funds toward projects for the rest of the year. “It was a success,” Co-leader, 18-year-old Janali Gustafson said. She organized the Frito pies which were a sellout.
Co-leader McKenna Schoonover, also 18, agreed it was a success. “People were happy we were doing this for the community, many just donated without getting their cars washed,” she said.
Along with raising money for future activities, part of the proceeds for the car wash and bake sale go to donations for Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Northern New Mexico and Adopt-A-Family to give younger children gifts over the holidays.
Gustafson was the team leader for the Homecoming Bonfire, which is timed in conjunction with Los Alamos High School’s homecoming festivities. The sports teams and coaches come together with the student body to build a bonfire and make S’mores.
Schoonover was the team leader for two projects, which she considers very important and inspirational — the Reading Challenge and Wreaths Across America. The reading challenge was at Barranca Mesa Elementary School. Schoonover and other participants traveled to the school to discuss the importance of reading with Kindergarten to second grade students. “It is so important for even really little kids to read a book,” she said.
In the future, LAYL plans to make the rounds to all elementary schools in Los Alamos with this program.
Wreaths Across America, Schoonover said, was the most inspiring experience for her. Students collected wreaths and laid them on graves, on a cold weekend in December, at the Santa Fe National Cemetery. Team mentor Art Brown, a Desert Storm veteran told students stories of his experiences.
Both girls were co-leaders for Wild Day. In the spring, it is the biggest project to be involved with. High school students team up with elementary school age children and spend a Saturday with activities and positive influences. “We are their role models,” Gustafson said.
Schoonover had been a participant since her sophomore year and Gustafson participated throughout her high school career. Schoonover and Gustafson graduated this year, but are grateful for the experience of the LAYL.
In May, teams completed a project that was the purchase and installation of four bike racks around Los Alamos and White Rock. After meeting with Richard McIntyre from the County Parks Division to approve the locations, the team set out to find bike racks, order them and install them. They were installed at Sullivan Field, East Park, the Community building and the Paul Spirio field in White Rock.
The transformer art project was the last project that led into the summer months. Led by 15-year-old Olivia Snyder, an artist who wanted to “decorate the town,” she got the buy-in from county leaders and the art council. A contest at the high school was for students to submit designs, and then each was voted on by the student body. Three designs won. Locations were then chosen were near the Blue Window Restaurant, Los Alamos National Bank on Central and the Reel Deal Theater.
“I wanted to choose public places and the most visible spots in town,” Snyder said.
She said she wishes to continue with LAYL again this coming school year.
The last chance to sign up for the program is July 18. To sign up, more information, or questions on about the projects, email coordinator Susan Odegard-Fellows at layl@laymca.org.