Karen Jarczyk, Prevention Director
February 6, 2017
I think being a teenager is such a compelling time period in your life—it gives you some of your worst scars and some of your most exhilarating moments. —Stephenie Meyer, author
Moments, some silly and fun, some serious, are the stuff of high school memories. Yet, teens don’t always get ample time and opportunity to pause and reflect on what is most important to them. Teens can benefit by time away from school, in a setting outside of home, for experiences to remember in years to come. Operation Snowball is a unique opportunity where together they unwind and explore what matters to them. It’s an engaging youth leadership development program from 360 Youth Services in partnership with Districts 203 and 204. A highlight of the program are three weekend retreats during each school year, teen-led and adult-supported, serving 200 area high school students per event.
Describing the key aspect to the success of Snowball retreats? Participants say the weekend is a series of moments. Realizations. Connections.
Whatever it may or may not be, Snowball is effective; teen participants praise the program in exit surveys; 99% of attendees rate it as an impactful experience. What’s behind the effectiveness are its teen leaders. It’s a teen-led retreat. Adults serve as support. The spring teen directors have been participants and teen staff, prior to serving in this leadership role.
To understand the commitment each of these teen directors is making, they are donating 150 service hours at 28 days of meetings, for the duration of 5 months, along with two 3-day spring weekends. Teens have little time, especially seniors looking at colleges, working, and keeping up with their studies. Yet the 4 teen directors staffing the spring retreats are giving the gift of volunteer hours in preparation to lead the April 2017 weekends. Why are they doing so?
Regan, who loves to journal, and to explore forest preserves with her rusty-haired mini golden doodle, “August,” explained that directing a Snowball retreat is her way of making a difference: “I wanted to give people the opportunity to be who they are without being afraid. I wanted to give tools to people who need them.”
Grace is part of an 18-member advanced female high school choir since freshman year. She has a family-like relationship with her choir mates. She has also been a Snowball participant or teen staff since freshman year, with similar family-like bonds. This year? “I wanted to give back and make it the best weekend possible for the participants!”
Grace said the choir sings challenging arrangements including some in Hebrew, African, and styles ranging from gospel to classical. Snowball too has its own group harmonics.
Andrew will soon be studying paleontology in college, as a lifetime lover of fossils and dinosaurs. “As a senior this is a great way to finish the year in a fun way, giving back to a program that’s given me so much. It’s a great extracurricular activity for me to be involved in and as well as to give to everyone else who is in the program.”
Jon enjoys cooking, especially vegan challenges, journaling, writing poetry, playing guitar and helping people. “I Iike when people are happy. Happiness is a choice. I can’t make people happy. I can help make them feel better. Being on staff is enjoyable because I get to watch the growth in each person from Friday morning to Sunday afternoon.”
From the Snowball retreats he’s attended, Jon remembers being impacted by an especially humble teen director. “I connected with this teen director who taught me stress relievers. I still use them.”
Jon plans to be there at Snowball, really enjoying helping others enjoy the experiences, and making his unique mark connecting with teens as one of the retreat’s leaders.
Presented in a safe and respectful environment at Camp Henry Horner, Ingleside, IL, the program addresses challenges facing teens which help increase self-awareness, strengthen positive coping skills, enhance self-confidence, expand decision-making skills (especially regarding drugs and alcohol), enhance respect for self and others, refine personal goals and values, strengthen communication strategies and expand leadership abilities. Presentations, workshops, activities and small group discussions all combine to empower teens to make healthy life-style decisions and have a positive impact on their peers. Registration packets are now available in high school guidance offices for the spring retreats taking place April 7-9 and April 21-23. Registration is due March 6. For more information, visit 360 Youth Services.