Youth Crew, a coalition based in Great Bend, Kansas, began in the summer of 2021 at a local meeting in the courthouse square. After roughly six months of recruiting and setting a foundation for a youth-led coalition, meetings were hosted monthly throughout its first summer to gather feedback and open a dialogue with young leaders in the community. By September of 2021, Youth Crew became a recipient of the Drug Free Communities (DFC) grant and has continued to grow their efforts – with a current active roster of 50 students – and remains committed to the model of being youth-led and adult-guided.
“It was important to me get involved in prevention because I want people to become the best versions of themselves and using substances can be an impediment to that. By hosting events and having conversations around these topics, we’re bringing awareness to the negative impact of substance use and letting students know that there is a supportive space available to get them help if they need it,” said Jasmine Figueroa, a sophomore at Great Bend High School.
One event that the members of Youth Crew shared that they were especially proud of, was their community wide “Kicking the Habit” Kickball Tournament. After receiving a small grant, the members brainstormed this low-cost idea that would be open for all students in grades 6 – 12. Through the support of sponsors and volunteer groups, this fun event was successfully able to reach a wide audience on a tight budget.
“We consider this event to be special for two reasons: one, it is completely youth-led from start to finish. Second, it is our most advertised communal event that we have. Having something where kids have to take ownership and really work to make this happen is a big step in getting our program to where it needs to go,” said Tyler Morton, DFC Project Coordinator.
“The kickball tournament was really great because we were able to make new friends and help the community all at the same time,” added Sydney James, a 7th grader at Great Bend Middle School. The students had many responsibilities ahead of the tournament; youth helped to create and distribute posters and flyers, create shirts, and order prizes. Additionally, this became an opportunity for the members of Youth Crew to get the word out there and show their friends that being part of a prevention group can also be a lot of fun.
“Since hosting this event, we have seen the youth grow in terms of leadership skills. We have also seen a lot more volunteering on their part, without it being overly suggested by the leadership group,” explained Tyler. “Funding for event planning can be a little tricky because of the way the DFC grant is laid out; we don’t get a ton of funding for event planning, so we haven’t gone much outside of this one event. However, as we improve the kickball tournament and focus on sharing a vision and purpose with others, we have begun soliciting donations and sponsorships so we can plan future events. We have also made it known to the youth that if they want to work on other event projects throughout the year, that we must have support, especially financially. In order to bring people to that table, the youth must be able to share the importance of Youth Crew and why it needs to be in our community.”
Later this month, Youth Crew will host their second annual Kickball Tournament with new improvements and even more community support and sponsorships. Some additions they will incorporate into this year’s event includes a live musical performance, increasing the number of volunteers, and adding more prizes. As a coalition still in its early years, Youth Crew aims to keep their strong momentum going and continue to inspire members in the community to stay healthy and substance-free.