“My goal has really been to talk to the students who are currently in the program to see what they want and how we can redo the program so it is something they are proud of,” Jones said.
“I want them to feel like they are really getting a lot out of this program.”
Several changes have already been made to the six-year-old program. Members complained a frequent shift in directors left them learning the same material several times over. Jones made a four-year curriculum plan in response.
Members also felt they were not involved enough in the community. Strides have been made to partner with local organizations like Habitat for Humanity. Jones said ITLT is strengthening its relationship with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland while expanding into other areas.
“Most of our members are high-schoolers. We would like to get more middle school involvement,” Jones said.
“Ideally, we would like to have three to four students from each middle school and high school.”
Students from alternative schools like the Teen Learning Center and Goal Academy are welcomed, as well.
“This program is for any student who is wanting to be a leader. I think typically people think about those students who are already showing leadership skills. ... Part of my goal is to also reach those students who have that leadership potential, but it has never been encouraged,” Jones said.
Middle and high school students gather together every other week for a large group meeting.
The first hour consists of leadership skills class. Here students learn about everything from how to talk to adults to how to apply for jobs.
The second half of the time the students meet on their youth board.
“We talk about needs they [members] see in the community, especially those that affect the youth. We identify service projects they can use that will help those needs,” Jones said.
“We also talk about organizations that are already doing something and how they can partner with those organizations. This part is really directed by the kids.”
Jones meets with the members in small group meetings on off weeks. These meetings are a time for Jones to focus on what the students are going through in their lives and how she can offer assistance.
“The goal of ITLT is for kids to feel like they are empowered to do something. Whether it is going to college or being involved in the community,” Jones said. “We are really trying to build self-esteem and self-confidence so that they can be successful when they get out of school. I feel like a lot of kids don’t feel like they have a voice with adults.”
“I want to give them that voice because I feel like they can say what they want to or how they feel.”
The ideal number of participants is 28 with four representatives from each middle and high school in the Bradley County and Cleveland school systems. Jones and ITLT members are currently working to recruit more members.
Members this year can expect to help with New Hope Pregnancy Center’s Walk for Life, man a face painting booth at the Apple Festival, partner with Habitat for Humanity, and participate on the youth board.
“Our youth board is looking at developing a program to tackle self-harm and other issues that affect youth, but are not as widely handled,” Jones said.
Interested students can contact Chrissy Jones at BICC by calling 423-559-1112. An application must be filled out and can either be found online at BICC’s website or by visiting the office at 2810 Westside Drive N.W., Suite E.
“I think there are students with quiet leadership skills who are not automatically thought of, but with some encouragement and attention they can really blossom into really great leaders,” Jones said.