While the customer service floor at Provident Bank on Main Street is buzzing with business on a Fridaymorning, there’s non-banking activity happening in the basement. Six teenagers who are Madison Area YMCA Leader in Training (LIT) are snaking through stacks of cardboard boxes. “Do you think this would be appropriate for business casual?” is heard from behind a box. The teens are sorting through clothing that was donated to Dress 4 Success, a nonprofit organization that helps women get into the workforce.
Through leadership-oriented teambuilding, meaningful community service projects and staff-led mentoring, the Y’s new LIT program is offered during the summer session in two week increments that run Mondaythrough Friday from 9 a.m.- 4 p.m.
“The Y’s LIT program is an excellent opportunity for teenagers to help the community they live in,” says Madison Area YMCA Youth & Teen Development Director Allison Bardon. “For kids this age, it’s important for them to volunteer locally so that they can see they are helping in their community. They also learn the skills of working in a group setting outside of school,” she says.
Splitting their time between volunteering in the community and assisting on site with the Y’s summer day campers and counselors at the F.M. Kirby Children’s Center, teens enjoy experiences designed to teach important life skills including communication, decision making and conflict resolution. Teens finish the program feeling fulfilled and confident.
Elizabeth Kiernan, 15, spent the previous four summers attending the Madison Area YMCA’s summer camp. “I loved camp at the Y,” says the Madison High School junior. “It seemed fitting to become an LIT because I want to be a camp counselor. I like working with kids.” Elizabeth says she’s also learned to be more assertive, a skill that she is happy to have gained from the experience.
With guidance from counselors and coordinators, LITs learn responsibility and gain independence during the summer. They receive weekly leadership/staff training and valuable feedback and evaluations. They also accompany the youngest campers to field trips as part of their training. They become role models that campers look up to all summer long.
LITs help with projects at the Madison Public Library, work in the Madison Community Garden, attend the Famers’ Market to collect donations for a Morristown soup kitchen and visit the Madison Senior Center.
“The teens help seniors with their cell phones and seniors teach the teens how to knit!” says Leader in Training Coordinator Kelsey Bull, who accompanies the teens on their volunteer trips in the community. The teens also coordinated the window displays at Short Stories, which the community book hub donated to raise awareness of the area’s nonprofit organizations.
Reflecting on her experience in the LIT program, Madison High School sophomore Julia Natoli, 15, says, “It benefits me more than the people I’m helping.”
Chatham High School sophomore Peter Gaynor, 15, says, “And when you help other people not as fortunate, you realize how much you have. It makes you feel grateful.”