Youth recognized for providing a platform for peers to share ideas.
When given the chance, young people can be changemakers. The Edina Community Foundation (ECF) celebrates these changemakers with its annual Connecting with Kids Leadership Award, given to people who strengthen and improve the community. Traditionally, the award was primarily given to adults who give back to the children of Edina. ECF extended the award to also include youth who contribute to their peers.
In 2023, a group of five Edina High School students received this honor for their dedicated work on a student-developed event, TEDxYouth@Edina. Emma Flaherty, Charlie Greene, Abid Hasan, Nick Presthus and Elsa Utoft developed, organized and conducted this event in late 2022. Cheryl Gunness, the group’s nominator for the Connecting with Kids Leadership Award, says, “We’ve always included youth in the TEDxEdina events we’ve organized since 2015 as speakers, emcees and volunteers. We know how important it is to listen to the youth in our community, so we wanted to take the next step in elevating youth voices by creating an event organized by youth, for youth, featuring youth. The results were inspiring.”
For the students, the process of stepping into this leadership role was impactful. “These talks are important because they help everyone learn that we are all more alike than different, which impacts our community to grow closer together,” Emma says.
It was also an opportunity for students to set the stage for new voices to be heard. “I also knew that there were people at my school and others in Edina Public Schools who were passionate about ideas but didn’t have an outlet to share them,” Charlie says. “I thought we needed to provide them one.”
An event like TEDxYouth@Edina reverberates throughout the community and especially to the young people who told their stories, and their peers in the audience. “If it helps them in the slightest stick with their dreams, I think it is worth it,” Hasan says.
Young people are a substantial part of the Edina community and creating opportunities for them to organize with their peers opens doors and unlocks potential, Gunness says. “I admired these students for embracing the form of leadership that involves setting the stage, staying behind the curtains and creating a platform to amplify the voices of others,” she says.
Educators like her recognize the positive power of creating these opportunities, and Emma reinforces this. “I think it’s important for youth to plan and execute events on our own,” she says. “Because it shows the adults of our community that we are capable of leading things, and it prepares us for the future.”
Receiving the Connecting with Kids Leadership Award meant a lot to these student organizers. Alongside their gratitude for the honor, the students expressed excitement for what’s ahead for the youth of Edina now that they’ve helped pave a new path. Charlie says, “I think everyone needs the opportunity to pursue something that they’re passionate about, to let themselves dictate what they are capable of, not their environment. If the youth never try to execute anything on their own, they won’t know their potential.”
Nominations Are Open
Did this article make you think of an outstanding student or adult in our community who dedicates a lot of time to improving the lives of children? Nominations are now open for the 2024 Connecting with Kids Leadership Awards. Visit edinacommunityfoundation.org for links to the student and adult leadership nomination forms.