Youth Explore Leadership, College and Culture at GRiT Conference

March 15, 2019, 11:18 am | Ben Pullen

Youth at GRiT conference.STORM LAKE, Iowa – One hundred youth from Storm Lake, Storm Lake St. Mary’s and Fort Dodge school districts spent a day Getting Real Together through leadership activities, college exploration and cultural awareness. They were taking part in this year’s GRiT Conference, March 8 at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake.

“Nationally renowned author Angela Duckwall defines grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Her definition provided a philosophical foundation for this event,” said Ben Pullen, a youth program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and a member of the conference planning team.

This year’s event was the second GRiT conference at BVU and the fourth in Northwest Iowa. The program stems from an ongoing partnership of ISU Extension and Outreach’s 4-H Youth Development and Human Sciences programs, Buena Vista University and Northwestern College. The daylong event allowed area high-school youth to experience leadership activities, academic sessions led by university faculty, a BVU student-led campus tour, a campus student organization fair and a musical performance by the B2wins.

The Brazilian Twins – the B2wins – also were keynote presenters. They said they grew up in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, but found solace in classical music on violins their father hand-made. They explained that “their love of music led them on a wild ride to the United States, in pursuit of their dreams.” B2Wins inspired the audience not only with their music, but also with the story of how they discovered their passion. Following that passion led them to achieve things they could not even dream of when they were young. They also told about struggles they had to overcome along their journey, such as learning English, facing cultural differences and being diagnosed with cancer.  

Lessly Ortega, a Storm Lake High School 11th grader said, “The B2wins’ music was amazing, but I was really inspired by their story. It is a huge sacrifice to cut your hair to support your brother’s fight with cancer.”  

During the leadership session, youth from different schools joined together to complete teambuilding challenges. After each challenge, youth made connections between the activity and their real-world experiences, goals and dreams.  

Youth from previous GRiT conferences in Buena Vista and Sioux counties selected and helped develop the leadership sessions for this year’s participants.  

“In our first teambuilding activity we were told we were super heroes trying to get over a nuclear fence. I thought about that all day -- we are all someone’s hero,” said Katherine Ardon, a Storm Lake High School senior.

Youth were encouraged to step out of their comfort zone throughout the day through the activities and by the speakers. The students also learned about further opportunities to find and develop their passions through 4-H youth development, community engagement and college exploration.

The GRiT planning team included staff from ISU Extension and Outreach, Buena Vista University and Northwestern College. In addition, past youth participants guided decisions and offered event suggestions.  

“The success of today was due to the work of the greatest combination of youth development staff that I have ever had the privilege to work with. This makes me hopeful for the future and excited for the great things to come,” Pullen said.


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