Teen Spirit: Youth Board Develops Future Leaders for Oklahoma Association

Each year, the Oklahoma Heritage Association invites a handful of high schoolers to serve as volunteer leaders in a yearlong program. The teens learn volunteer leadership skills, and OHA makes a connection with a new generation of Sooners.

It’s never too early to start developing tomorrow’s  leaders. Just ask the Oklahoma Heritage Association, which is currently accepting applications for its 2014-2015 Teen Board program.

Founded in 1927 as the governing body of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame and the Gaylord-Pickens Oklahoma Heritage Museum, OHA has sought in recent years to bridge the gap between the Oklahomans it honors and a younger generation of Sooners.

“We wanted to be able to teach them the importance of supporting a nonprofit … while at the same time giving them the chance to learn and build upon real-world leadership skills.”

“We wanted to be able to teach them the importance of supporting a nonprofit and having pride in their state, while at the same time giving them the chance to learn and build upon real-world leadership skills,” said Shelley Rowan, director of marketing at OHA.

Their answer was the Teen Board program, which invites about 30 ninth- through 12th-grade students to serve as volunteer leaders for the organization. During their year of service, the students elect a board chair, vice chair, secretary, and treasurer, participate in regular board meetings, serve on committees, hear from guest speakers, and interact with members of OHA’s board of directors.

Their major project is an annual fundraiser that is entirely student-run. In the first several years of the program, the students organized a battle of the bands event that didn’t gain much traction. They now host a more successful annual road race [PDF], which supports OHA’s scholarship program.

“They completely organize the event, do all of the fundraising for the event, work the event, thank all of the sponsors, and contact people in the community,” said Rowan. “It’s really a wonderful program and a great opportunity for the high school students to see what goes into planning something of that magnitude.”

OHA gets something in the bargain, too.

“One of the biggest ways [the Teen Board] helps the organization is just to have young eyes. They tour the museum each year and they see our programs, and there’s an honesty at that age where if one of our exhibits is boring, they will tell us—they’re not shy about that,” Rowan said. “It definitely keeps our association in tune with what the younger students are doing right now.”

OHA stays connected with its Teen Board alumni as well, inviting them back to speak to the current board and attend other events.

The Teen Board has also been a financial boon for OHA. Since 2007, members of the program have donated over $100,000 back to the OHA’s free field trip program, making them one of the program’s largest supporters, according to Rowan.

Part of what has made the program a success is getting the students to understand the mission of the organization, she said. “When the students really understand the big picture and what we are striving to do, it seems easier for them to follow through with the daily tasks and to be more connected to the organization.”

Rowan said the Teen Board has taught her a lot about these future leaders.

“What we have found is that they are incredibly hard working and worth the time to understand how they communicate,” she said. “It does have its challenges—namely getting them to do more than just text you back—but they are creative and passionate, and they’re worth the investment of time, because they will give back tenfold. I don’t think any association should shy away from working with the age group.”

The Oklahoma Heritage Association's Land Run, a foot race organized by members of the Teen Board, has become a major fundraiser for the organization's scholarship program. (Facebook photo)

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!