On April 29th, three representatives from Fridley High School’s Key Club attended the Kiwanis International Community Leader Briefing in Washington DC. Kiwanis Advisor Mary Bowen, Faculty Advisor Jessica Baker and Key Club President Kati Stevenson were chosen to attend the briefing because of the work Fridley Key Club does with one of their signature projects, the Teeter-Totter Marathon, which is an annual project where members spend 70 hours teeter-tottering in a basement to raise money.
“The Kiwanis International staff selected 240 Kiwanis and Kiwanis Family projects to be potentials. From this list the White House staff selected 34 projects. Our Key Club project was one of four to be recognized. When I learned of this process, I realized that the Fridley Key Club is more powerful and unique than I had thought,” said Bowen, who has worked with the Key Club for 24 of the 27 years that she has been a member of Kiwanis. It was an honor to be chosen out of the 16,000 clubs that are a part of the global K-Family.
Kiwanis is an organization comprised of members who are “dedicated to serving the children of the world.” There are many groups to be a part of based on the age of a participant, and Key Club is the level for high schoolers. Key Club aims to build strong leaders and perform community service, all while being grounded in the values of Character Building, Caring, Inclusiveness and Leadership.
Stevenson, who has been in office for about two weeks now, stresses how important these values are. “We don’t always talk about them, but if you ever meet a Key Clubber, they exhibit every one of the Four Core Values. I noticed that a lot in DC: I met some very humble people who fell in love with service and continue to make a difference in their communities.”
Fridley Key Club has indeed made an impact. In addition to their Teeter-Totter Marathon, other projects they do include the Homeless Sleepout, Dodge for Darfur, Dog and Dolls for Africa, Highway Clean-up, helping with Fridley Parks and Rec events, March of Dimes, ‘Tines for Troops, Teacher Appreciation and many more.
All of this service led to the distinction of being chosen to attend the Briefing in DC. “For thirteen years we have received the Distinguished Diamond Level Award, the highest award a Key Club can receive,” Bowen proudly stated. Stevenson added, “We’re highly qualified, but it was still an honor to be chosen. A huge part of it is all the work our advisors put in. Mary especially spends hours sewing for us, or making little crafty projects to thank us students for our work. And she still finds time to maintain friendships with all of the higher-ups at Kiwanis International!” Bowen just laughed. She has served on many advisory boards for Kiwanis over the years and has formed lasting friendships with people she was excited to see again. “It was a great experience for me to see and visit with some of my worldwide Kiwanis friends. Many of them have worked selflessly for years without any thanks or recognition. They are a positive group, always caring about others.”
While in DC, Bowen, Stevenson and Baker attended the Briefing, where they heard from speakers who work in the Obama administration. They were thanked many times for their service, and learned about new initiatives such as Invest in Us, Fitness Gram, My Brother’s Keeper and USAID. This was Baker’s favorite part of the trip, because it made her feel like an active participant in her community, country and government. “I liked hearing about the power of the goodwill of American people overseas and the impact we are having. It made me proud to be an American,” she said, adding that she enjoyed hearing from the decision makers.
Next on the agenda was an Impact Luncheon, where the groups heard from the other clubs about their signature project. Stevenson got to stand up and talk about the Teeter-Totter Marathon, as well as the Dog and Doll Stuffing project Fridley Key Cub does, where they stuff and send toys to orphans in Africa. This project recently won a first place award at Key Club’s District Convention. “The Dog and Doll project was something we’ve been working on all year long, and we’re very proud of all we have accomplished with it. It wasn’t that nerve-wracking to talk to all the other clubs, and they gave us a round of applause for all of our work,” remarked Stevenson. She added that they also had some delicious caramel-chocolate mousse for dessert, “which was fabulous.”
Afterwards, it was time to meet with the Congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. Baker had a meeting at four p.m., while “Mary and I got to do touristy things. We visited the Botanic Gardens, which was gorgeous. It was a perfect April day, and I loved just being able to be outside for a while,” Stevenson reflected. Baker continued, “Someone at school wanted a picture of the cherry trees if they were still in bloom, but they weren’t, so we faked it with a dogwood.”
The meetings with staffers from the representatives’ offices were both good and bad. Some were not interested, which Baker stated “made me appreciate legislators who take the time to listen and get to know their constituents.” On the other hand, Bowen and Stevenson had an excellent visit with Abby, one of Congressman Keith Ellison’s staff. “She was an awesome person. She was already knowledgeable about Kiwanis and their service efforts, plus she was willing to talk with us about her job. We had a good experience,” said Stevenson, with Bowen nodding in agreement.
The evening held two receptions, the first being White House-sponsored at one of the Senate buildings. Stevenson quipped, “We heard from senators and representatives who were or are part of the K-Family, so that was special. Plus, I got my picture taken behind the official Senate podium. Mrs. Baker sent it out with the caption ‘Future Senator?’ to some of the staff at school, which they appreciated.” When asked if she does have plans for political office, Stevenson shook her head. “I’d like to stay on the community side of things. Actually, John [Shertzer, the Chief Programs Officer at Kiwanis International] already told me he’d hire me if I want to work for Kiwanis.”
The next reception of the evening was sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Washington DC and was held at the La Loma restaurant. With delicious smells wafting in the air, Baker, Bowen and Stevenson socialized briefly with other friends they had made. “We didn’t stay long, because we were tired, but it was fun. We got to catch up again with the Mankato club,” remarked Stevenson. Baker seconded that. “I enjoyed meeting the rest of the Minn-Dak representatives from Mankato. They seem to be great at connecting organizations and we could learn a lot from them.” The day was full of inspiring moments, but the best was yet to come.
“We got to take a tour of the White House! We had to get up really early to do it, but it was such a neat experience. We got to take pictures from inside the gates, and I saw the really famous painting of George Washington. My history teacher was excited about that,” chattered Stevenson. “I also got to hang out with Michael [a Key Club president from Illinois] and some of the college students from Rutgers University. Talking to them was the highlight of my trip, because I love connecting with people, and we got along really well. We talked about Key Club and how we get greater involvement in our activities, but we also talked about life and high school. Turns out they also study the Cold War in Illinois!”
Since it was just a three day trip, many events had been crammed in, leaving little time for reflection. But each participant from Fridley was able to come away with a main idea, something that inspired them to continue to pursue service in Key Club and life. For Baker, that’s getting the Key Clubbers to feel a better sense of community. “I would like each of the students involved to feel that their individual actions are part of a larger whole that is making a huge difference in the world. [To be] thinking of ourselves doing small actions that add up.” For Bowen, her take-away was a renewed sense of thankfulness for her amazing crew. “I call this experience ‘Crzy Mry, Queen for a Day.’ The new friendships I made, the new projects ideas I obtained and the awesome speakers I heard all contributed to making me feel very special. We are blessed to have the support of the school and the staff. I am rarely told ‘No’ with any of my cuckoo ideas!” For Stevenson, she felt her proudest moment came in just socializing with others. “Mary knows everyone, so I got introduced to a lot of influential people. Every one of them has story I can learn from. I also liked sitting down with Michael and another Key Club president from New Jersey, Sam. She was awesome, and talking to them was such a blessing. I have garnered some knowledge from them that will help me better lead my club, and they reinforced my decision to stick with service because there’s a huge support network out there of kids just like me who are just as passionate about helping others.”
Overall, the experience was a successful one for the Fridley Key Club. They got to go to Washington to talk about something they are quite enthusiastic about, service, and came home with some great ideas to implement in their club, as well as a renewed fire for social change. Bowen couldn’t have said it better when she said, “Working with these students has made me realize that the future of the world is in excellent hands. Life is good!”