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Excelling at great leadership everyday

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Gilpin after-school program for ages 11-18

By Esmee Halsted

The EAGLE program, also known as “The Excelling At Great Leadership Everyday” program, is a new after school program for ages 11-18 that is completely free. Working with CSU extension and the Community Center, the EAGLE program is run by Katherine Harvey as the full-time coordinator, Cassidy Wood as the youth assistant, and a leadership team of 10 young people to help out. Starting in early March, the program plans to work with COVID-19 regulations, whether that means hosting virtual or small group events. When it is safe, they will operate out of Gilpin Community Center.

Encompassing youth, the goal of the program is to help young people achieve their dreams through seeking well-earned opportunities. According to Katherine, “We want to support youth in using their talents and strengths to learn new things, challenge themselves, and help our community. We also recognize that, as adults, we have a collective responsibility to support young people with the challenges they are currently facing. Even before COVID, data from the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey shows that teen mental health has been plummeting since we started keeping track in 2013. There is evidence that youth mental health improves with stronger social connections to peers, trusted adults, and communities. Of course, the pandemic has made it much harder for youth (and adults) to maintain those relationships. Our goal in EAGLE to promote social connections among youth therefore seems more relevant and urgent than ever.”

Katherine was inspired to create the program given her own experiences as a young person: “I grew up in the Peak to Peak area and attended Nederland schools from kindergarten through high school graduation. When I was 16, I started working a few hours a week at TEENS, Inc. in Nederland. I also participated in their outdoor leadership and youth corps programs. At the time, my mom was battling breast cancer (she’s now seven years cancer-free!), and I felt very lonely and isolated from people my age and from teachers at school. The adult staff at TEENS, Inc. were incredibly supportive and became the folks that I turned to whenever I needed to talk to someone. Thanks to the opportunities they provided me, I was also able to get a job in college at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, where I worked on adolescent development and youth health initiatives. After I graduated, I knew that I wanted to work directly with teens in a rural area, similar to the roles of the adult staff who had supported me in high school.

I returned to the mountains a year and a half ago, and not long after, I started working at the Gilpin County Community Center at the front desk and with the child care program for ages 5-12. I noticed immediately that there was no structured programming for Gilpin teens; we had staff to run activities for children, and staff to teach classes for adults and seniors, but there wasn’t anything that was specifically for the middle and high school age group. Around the same time, a grant opportunity came up that I was familiar with from my time working for the state. I worked with our CSU Extension director, Jennifer Cook, and our child care coordinator, Jacob Rippy, to conceptualize EAGLE and apply for funding. A few months later, lockdowns began, so we’ve had quite a few delays in getting started. I officially came on in late November. I am so thrilled to be able to live in the mountains and serve youth in my own community again. This really is my dream job!”

The Gilpin community is excited to welcome this incredible opportunity for young people. It’s important to look for positive things in this troubling time, and this is a great step to help Gilpin youth during COVID and beyond. Creating a sense of community while supporting youth is certainly important given the mental health strain and troubles youth face today. This program will do good things for the kids in the Gilpin Community.

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