What Is Youth MWLS?
Midwest Leadership School is a weeklong intensive experience designed to engage participants in all aspects of leadership in a Unitarian Universalist faith community. Since 2009, we are pleased to offer Midwest Leadership School for Youth (ages 14-18) in tandem with our Adult School. It will challenge and train Unitarian Universalist youth in three areas:
- Leadership Skills Development
- Religious Values & Heritage
This is an intentional community and learning experience. It equips young UUs with a foundation that deepens their religious development and expands their ability to contribute, both in their Unitarian Universalist community and beyond.
Youth Leadership School is designed to be an intensive learning experience. The days will be long, varied and demanding, with little free time. The community we create together will be safe, supportive and fun—aiming to give each participant as full a sense of his or her own developing leadership skills as is possible in one short week. This is not a setting for anyone who might be dealing with personal life crises and it is not a "Con." Students should be mature and able to manage their time and emotional needs in this intense context.
Days are highly structured and participation in all aspects of the school is required. The adult to youth ratio is about 1:4, so there will be ample adult support for students.
Scott Stewart, YMWLS Co-Dean
Scott serves as the Director of Religious Education at Eliot Unitarian Chapel in Kirkwood, MO and has served on the YMWLS staff since 2014. He’s an enthusiastic supporter of UU youth and eagerly attends and supports as many UU youth events and leadership opportunities as possible. Scott and his wife Jennifer have been married for 15 years. He enjoys reading, traveling throughout the country, playing games with family and friends, hiking, viewing wildlife, and bird watching. Scott is also an avid supporter of the St. Louis Cardinals and the St. Louis Blues.
Nancy has been immersed in Unitarian Universalist faith development for the last 17 years, including 6 years as a Director of Religious Education, and 11 years on UUA district and regional staff, as the Faith Development Director in Heartland District, and the MidAmerica Coordinator for Emerging Models in Youth and Young Adult Ministries. Throughout this progression she has remained passionate about the transformative impact of our faith for children, youth, and young adults. She has worked closely as a regional liaison with our national Youth and Young Adult staff. Outside of the realm of faith development, she radiates a love of music and movement. One particular joy is DJing for multigenerational events as NC<* (NCLight), and spending time with family and friends in her hometown of Lexington, KY.
Heather Godbout is the youth coordinator at Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Oak Park, IL. She has been active in youth ministry as a volunteer advisor and/or youth ministry staff since 1996. Heather also serves as a youth conference consultant for the MidAmerica region's Northern Area. In her work-a-day life, Heather is the literacy coach at Crete-Monee High School in Crete, IL. She loves books, drawing, her garden, and all things nerdy.
Jennica is the Youth Ministry Associate for our UUA's Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries. She supports Youth Caucus at General Assembly, Summer Seminary for youth exploring a career in UUism and the network of Luminary Leaders. She co-organizes the SURJ-SLC (Showing Up for Racial Justice) chapter, plays the ukulele and just got a slow cooker but doesn't know how to use it yet.
Spencer Thomas has been involved in UU youth ministry for over a decade, serving in such roles as Coming of Age mentor, YRUU advisor, and member of the Heartland area youth council. He was an RA at the MWLS in 2012 and found it to be a transformative and energizing experience. Spencer is a 3rd generation UU, and has been a member of the First UU Congregation of Ann Arbor since 2002.
Will Cannon is a fifteen year old homeschooler from Indianapolis, IN. He has been UU all his life and attends All Souls Unitarian Church of Indianapolis. He is involved in planning events for the youth group at his church, and is a trained youth chaplain. Will is very excited to be returning to leadership school as Youth Staff this summer after attending last year as a student, and is most excited to meet all the amazing youth that will be attending. As a student, Will loved leadership school and believes it was a very unique and life-altering experience for him.
Henry attended YMWLS in the summer of 2016, found the experience to be truly transformative, and can't wait to be on staff for 2017. Hailing from the First Unitarian Society of Madison, Wisconsin, Henry is an active member of his congregation and Madison community at-large; currently organizing around immigrant rights and the New Sanctuary Movement. When he isn't doing schoolwork in his bedroom (homeschooled), or lip-syncing to the latest Taylor Swift song (if you attend YMWLS you can count on several performances), Henry is taking the bus down to Chicago every weekend to study and perform improvisational comedy. He is so excited to be spending part of his summer with you and the wonderful (i.e. unlimited!) cafeteria food of Luther College. Henry also finds it awkward to write about himself in the third person.
Sarah is excited to join YMWLS this year! Sarah is an adult advisor to the Heartland Area Youth Council. She has been a UU for more than twenty years, and much of her involvement with UU churches centers around RE and youth programs. She is currently a member of All Souls Unitarian Church in Indianapolis, IN. Sarah is a children's author. Her debut novel comes out from Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan this fall. She's also a homeschooling mom and freelance writer. In her spare time, she likes to garden, knit, read, and play Pokemon Go.
Aislynn Pasierb (Lead Youth Staff)
Aislynn Pasierb is a Youth Member of Eliot Chapel located in Kirkwood, MO. She enjoys the advocacy, inclusion of everyone’s ideas, and guidance that Eliot’s congregation and Youth Leaders support and encourage. When she is not involved with Eliot Chapel, Aislynn focuses on her studies at Kirkwood High School where she is a Senior. She also enjoys acting, dance, and voice--combining all of these in musical theatre productions both at school and various other companies in the St. Louis area.
Izzy Spriggs is thrilled to be a YMWLS staff this summer! She went as a YMWLS student in 2013 and has been a part of the Heartland Area Youth Council for over 5 years. Izzy experienced an exchange year in Germany as a Congress-Bundestag scholarship recipient with Youth for Understanding for the 2015-16 school year and is about to graduate high school in Indianapolis, Indiana. Since her study abroad, Izzy has traveled to South Africa and Mexico. She hopes to major in English with an interdisciplinary in African and African American Diaspora Studies and a minor in international relations so that she can continue her love of traveling. Izzy loves her UU community and cannot wait to be apart of YMWLS once again!
Rev. Leslie Mills
Leslie Mills is the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Elgin, Illinois. As a third-generation UU, she has a passion for empowering teen voices and leadership, giving them the support and resources they need in order to become powerhouses of our liberal faith. Leslie has worked with youth for over a decade, from running a youth volunteer program to leading youth pilgrimages. She has served our denomination as the youth director of Camp StarTrail, the minister-in-residence at Summer Seminary for youth contemplating becoming religious professionals, and most recently as a youth chaplain at YMWLS. She’s thrilled to be back this year, and can’t wait to meet you!
Tim Murphy is a youth advisor at the UU Church of Indianapolis and served on the staff of YMWLS from 2010-2015 and is back! He loves to work with youth and promotes youth empowerment every chance he gets. He's been to tons of cons and trainings as both staff and attendee. He works as a cataloger at a public library, serves as the merchandise coordinator for Naptown Roller Derby and in his spare time watches lots of movies and rides as many roller coasters as he can find!
Many thanks to past YMWLS staff for 2016:
Shannon Harper - Chaperone 2016
Shannon is excited to join YMWLS for the third year! She currently works as Director of Religious Education at the Miami Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Dayton, OH. She also serves as adult advisor on the Heartland Area Youth Council and youth consultant for MidAmerica Region. In addition, Shannon teaches art classes at a local community center. She has two teenage daughters of her own, but when she's not hanging out with young people she tries to spend as much time as possible visiting Chicago, collecting beach glass and making art.
Rhianna Giron - Lead Youth Staff Member 2016
Rhianna is a seventeen year old from Omaha, Nebraska, and became a UU when she was ten when her parents discovered Unitarian Universalism. Rhianna is the Lead Youth Staff member for the summer of 2015, was a member of the staff for 2014, and was a student for 2013 at Midwest Leadership School. She is a member of the First Unitarian Church of Omaha. She is involved in the youth group at her church and is the President of the Youth Adult Committee for the group. Rhianna recently finished her Junior year in High School and loves participating in school and in the drama department there. Rhianna is looking forward to her last year at Midwest Leadership School and hopes to help make it a wonderful experience for all the youth and adults involved.
Colleen Lee - Youth Staff Member 2016
Colleen Lee will be a junior in high school and attends Eliot Unitarian Chapel in Kirkwood, MO. She has been UU all her life and is also a trained youth chaplain. Colleen loves traveling and new experiences and is excited to be staffing YMLS this summer and is most excited to meet all the amazing youth that will be attending. As a student Colleen loved leadership school and believed it was the most unique and life altering experience for her: meeting new people, discovering herself, UUism and acquiring new leadership skills.
Caleb Leman - Youth Staff Member 2016
Caleb Rakesh Leman is a Junior at Deerfield High School and is on the youth staff for Youth Leadership School 2015. He has a leadership position in his youth group at North Shore Unitarian Church and his greatest passion is all things UU- the ideologies, people, and spiritual exploration. Caleb’s extracurriculars include Marching Band, Student Congress, and Mountain Biking. His favorite subjects in school are English and History, and he has a particular fondness for poetry and transcendentalism. His favorite bands are Muse, Pink Floyd, Arcade Fire, and Cage the Elephant. His favorite author is Kurt Vonnegut, and his favorite book is The Ox-Bow Incident (Catcher in the Rye is a close second). And above all, he is very excited to help staff YMLS this year.
Schuyler Vogel - Youth School Chaplain 2016
Schuyler Vogel serves as minister to congregations in Waukesha, Wisconsin and the greater Rock Valley region, where the Youth Midwest Leadership School is located. A recent graduate of Harvard Divinity School, Schuyler grew up in Milwaukee and attended Carleton College. He has served as the Director of Faith Development at River of Grass Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Plantation, Florida and as the Director of Religious Education at North Shore Unitarian Church in Deerfield, Illinois.
Dori Davenport Thexton - Co-Dean 2016
Dori has loved working with youth and young adults for most of her 30 year career in Unitarian Universalism. She has served two congregations as Director of Religious Education prior to joining the UUA’s fieldstaff group in 1998. Dori also works with congregational growth and staff team development and training in the MidAmerica Region. She is married to former youth advisor Arthur Thexton and lives in Milwaukee, WI where she enjoys time with her 5 grandchildren and pets.
Ben Wallace - Co-Dean 2016
Ben is a fourth year staff member and MWLS Adult School Alumnus. Ben is a member of First Unitarian Church of Omaha and is involved in various regional efforts including as an advisor for the MidAmerica Region Youth and Young Adult programs. Employed by TSYS Acquiring Solutions since 2008, Ben is currently an Assistant Director of Sales Support for TSYS. Ben enjoys sharing puns with others but most of all Ben enjoys learning and teaching about leadership, empowerment, and inspiring others to follow their dreams.
Many thanks to PAST YMWLS Staff for 2015:
Mary Grayson Batts is an artist, violist, actress, teacher, and activist from Bowling Green, KY. Mary Grayson spends her days creating art, listening to and making music, baking cookies, drinking coffee, teaching art to children, sleeping, scrolling through Tumblr, and not doing her homework. Perhaps her proudest accomplishment to date is her success in founding and leading her high school's first Gay-Straight Alliance. Mary Grayson loves listening to records, watching Star Wars, and spending time with interesting people. She plans to study Fine Art in college.
Nancy Combs-Morgan has been immersed in Unitarian Universalist faith development for the last 17 years, including 6 years as a Director of Religious Education, and 11 years on UUA district and regional staff, as the Faith Development Director in Heartland District, and the MidAmerica Coordinator for Emerging Models in Youth and Young Adult Ministries. Throughout this progression she has remained passionate about the transformative impact of our faith for children, youth, and young adults. She has worked closely as a regional liaison with our national Youth and Young Adult staff. Outside of the realm of faith development, she radiates a love of music and movement. One particular joy is DJing for multigenerational events as NC<* (NCLight), and spending time with family and friends in her hometown of Lexington, KY.
Andrew Connet has lived the entirety of his 17 years in Lombard, Illinois and as a UU. He loves making and performing music, be it on the clarinet, Bb or Eb, or as the lead vocalist in a metal band. He enjoys listening to excessively loud music, playing games, watching movies, good or bad, reading, writing lyrics and poetry, making up and solving math problems, and doing pretty much anything that may occupy his spare time that he has because he is probably procrastinating on something, even if he doesn't realize it.
Andy Singleton debuted in 2014 in the supporting role of CHAPERONE/Resident Assistant in the live production of YMWLS, showing that summer in Beloit WI. He has over 10 years of ‘acting confident’ with UU youth and leading religious education classes and activities. He and his wife Deb have been members at North Shore Unitarian Church since 1991 where they both continue to be Youth Group advisors as well as participate in Social Action and Sustainability activities. In his free time, Andy is employed at I-CAR as the Application Development Manager, working for a UU boss.
Rev. Luke Stevens-Royer serves as Assistant Minister at White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church in Mahtomedi, MN. He is a native of southern Minnesota, and a graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College and United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. He served as Coordinator of Youth and Campus Ministries at Unity Church - Unitarian in St. Paul, MN, and as Intern Minister at the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, MN. Luke enjoys music, good coffee and poetry, paths around lakes and lots and lots of laughter.
Caitlin Warren is from Kansas City, MO. She has been a UU all her life and attended YMLS in 2013. She enjoyed and grew from the experience and loved every single person she met. Her goal in 2014 was to make every single youth feel included and comfortable and help them grow as much as possible. When she is not at leadership school, she enjoys learning other languages and gardening.
Nolan Watts is a rookie eighteen year-old from Wayzata, Minnesota. He served twice as a youth leader. Writing poetry and performing his spoken word at talent shows is something he loves to do. Also, he has been writing and recording music in his basement for three years. He has a knack for bad jokes and attracting bad nicknames.
What Is It for Us to Do?
In July 2014, we attended Youth Midwest Leadership School (YMWLS), a week-long UU leadership camp for UU youth in Beloit, Wisconsin. It was the best week of our lives.
We arrived with little preconception about the week's activities. We hoped for fun and eye-opening experiences. What we encountered was far more than we could have hoped for, particularly the relationships we developed with 28 other open-minded UU youth. We created a unique UU community where, together, we pursued acceptance, spirituality, communication, peace, equity, and unconditional love. We bonded until the idea of leaving sounded impossible. We departed feeling we'd evolved into new and better versions of ourselves who had experienced a real taste of what community, spirituality, and love truly means.
Youth 2012 Videos
Thanks to Ben Wallace for his creativity with video & music...a fun capsule of Monday's activities in Youth Leadership School. At times yesterday, I was wishing we had the money to run 5 or 6 separate weeks of this all summer - our teenagers are so amazing and inspiring! -- Dori Thexton, Dean of YLS