Heartland University helps teenagers learn to lead
By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
MARYVILLE - The writing was on the wall. Qualities of a Leader: diplomatic, multi-lingual, honest, organized, sense of humor, good speaker.
Marty Denzer/Key photo
Teen participants in the Christian Leadership Institute of Heartland University work on developing negotiation and leadership skills that they can take back to their parishes and schools.
You can add teenager to the list.
During the eighth annual week-long Heartland Youth University, held this year at Northwest Missouri State University here, teens from Missouri and Kansas Parishes had the opportunity to develop leadership skills, challenge their pre-conceived notions about the world they live in, discover ways to improve interpersonal relationships, or plan liturgies and prayer services for school and parish groups.
Heartland University has been sponsored by the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph for the past two years. Mary Kelly Mueller, director of the diocesan youth office, said "HYU is about sending the kids back into the parish community" to assist the youth ministers in planning and leadership.
Four workshops that ran concurrently, known as "institutes," comprised Heartland University. The "Relationships, Dating and Love Institute" focused on relationships and choices during the teenage years.
Participants in the "Liturgy, Prayer and Music Institute" were given an opportunity to receive training in various liturgical ministries, and plan and lead prayer services for the Heartland University community.
The "Justice and Peace Institute" examined how teenagers can address the problems they confront in society and the world, including violence, sexism and racism, war and the environment.
The "Christian Leadership Institute" focused on helping teenagers develop skills in negotiating, facilitating and information sharing, and increase their self-confidence in order to be effective parish and school leaders.
Kirstie Owsley, youth minister and director of religious education at St. Sabina Parish, Belton, was one of the facilitators on Christian leadership.
"It was a hugely full week," she said. "We had about 35 kids who were divided into small groups. In those small groups they learned how to use negotiation, facilitating, agendas, and information sharing to develop leadership skills."
The teenagers used the skills they developed to solve hypothetical problems and prepare a liturgy for participants in the other institutes.
The learning process was a stepping-stone operation. Owsley described it as, "I do, I do with you, you do with me, you do." The group leaders first demonstrated a leadership skill for the group and then practiced using the skill in small groups with the teens. The facilitators later turned the learning process over to the kids, who practiced using the skills they had developed while the facilitators acted only as resources. Finally the teenagers began practicing leadership skills on their own.
"It was more the process than the end result. If, in a problem solving exercise, negotiations broke down, the kids could see what happened. So the exercise was a good experience, even if it failed," Owsley said.
The teenagers planned to use the skills they developed to plan prayer services or liturgies for their parishes, schools or in their deaneries, Owsley said.
Christy Gruenbaum, youth minister at Our Lady of the Presentation Parish in Lee's Summit, said that the leadership skills the teenagers learned and developed could also be used in family situations.
Mueller said 110 teenagers from all over the diocese participated in this year's Heartland University. Several of the institutes, especially the Justice and Peace Institute, started as a week-long high school retreat in the 1980s. Heartland University as it runs today started in 1996.