By Kimberly Peña
(Every once in awhile, we will publish an account of student’s personal experience in an academic or special event setting. These “journal entries” are designed to allow others a “sneak peek” into the academic lives we live at HHS.)
Every year, thousands of teenagers from all over the country get together for a memorable experience that serves as a well-deserved reward for hundreds of hours of hard volunteer work.
These teens are a part of Keystone, a youth volunteer group run through the non-profit organization of the Boys and Girls Club of America.
Through Keystone, teenagers ranging from age 14 to 18 have the opportunity to gain valuable life experiences and shape their values while helping others, making lifelong friends, and having an outstanding experience to go on their college application.
The national Keystone conference allows all of these teens to come together, share ideas, step out of their comfort zone, and learn how to work with people from different walks of life.
We learn new ways to fundraise, we discuss contemporary issues and ways to contribute to the club to the best of our abilities. We go to daily workshops with guest and celebrity speakers whose goals are to impact at least one kid in order to get them to live up to the best of their potential.
This year the conference was held in Dallas Texas with over 2,800 Keystoners and advisors staying at the Dallas Omni, and I was there.
The following is a diary-style account of my experiences at this year’s conferences.
March 16 – First day in Texas and it was a success. Went out to eat and the food is amazing. Portions were the size of my head but it was incredible.
Took a while to actually realize I’m in Dallas. The city is so big, but I feel like I’m still home. Went to the Reunion Tower just a couple blocks away from the hotel we’re staying in, the Dallas Omni.
This hotel is over 60 stories with about 700 floors from what I remember, and the view from high up was one of the scariest things ever. It was just in a giant dome in the sky and I only thought of falling.
Being way up was extremely nerve racking and got even worse when I stepped outside, but in the end it was worth it. The view was immensely beautiful and I ended my day taking a risk, first of many of the trip.
March 17 – First official day of the Keystone Conference! Up by 6:30 a.m. to go and get breakfast to be back in the Omni by 8 a.m. ready for General Sessions.
General Sessions is when over 2,800 Keystoners get together to start or end their day in order to be inspired and get energized. The purpose is to remind everyone of the hard work they’ve done over the last year to get into this room.
This year’s opening general session had the national advisor speaking, the president of Keystone and other important figures in the organization. After that we went off into our own hand picked sessions and I went to one being hosted by the Keystone from the FBR Branch in Greater Washington DC.
The session revolved around civic issues and how we as teens would like to change things.
We also visited the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, the place from which Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy in the early 1960s.
This historic place was also walking distance from the hotel. Being where Oswald executed a U.S. President was such an eerie feeling; we could look right out the window and see where JFK was assassinated.
Just a few feet from the grassy knoll there was an “X”in the middle of the street to mark the moment of impact. People just drive over that tragic marker, which made me question if they felt the way I did.
But the trip wasn’t all tragedy and mourning.
My favorite part was dressing up for St Patrick’s Day. My fellow Keystoner and friend, Robert, and I decided to get our group to dress up for the theme “The Luck of the Keystone”. We got everyone to wear green tie-dye shirts, while the girls wore black leggings with green knee high socks and the boys wore bow ties and suspenders. It looks comical but so cute and we won a costume contest.
March 18 – Day 2, when things really get rolling. Being on the press pass team (a team about 50 students who cover the event), I had to report on the general session in a different light. I had to take away any bias and look at it as a journalist.
Among my duties, I had to correctly record the names of the speakers, what they were doing, and add nothing more or nothing less. Although I couldn’t be biased then, since this is a journal, I kind of can be now. My favorite portion was Frank Waln and the Samson Brothers, a group of three men who come from different Native American tribes. It was my favorite aspect of the general session because he mentioned how together as the current generation we can come together and make a positive change in this world. We can impact lives, change politics, change civil issues and make life better for ourselves and for the generations to come. It was pretty cool because while Frank rapped, the Samson Brothers danced in traditional Native American garbs. I can continue in about what we did but just for one day I can easily write a whole page.
March 19 – Last day; Bittersweet knowing it’s my last day of conference. Made several good friends from all over the country, three specifically from the AFB in Las Vegas Nevada and another from Pheonix. It’s during moments like these that you wish there were more dates in the year to get everyone together so you can see them again. Be able to dance again, speak again and just see how everyone’s doing. Yeah we have each other’s numbers now, and follow each other on social media but the anxiety of waiting to see someone an entire year is quite insane. I won’t be seeing these keystoners until March 3rd of next year in Chicago, and I can only hope! Anyway, we ended the last day of conference at Six Flags Over Texas just a short ride into Arlington. I actually learned that the name was given to it because at some point six countries owned the land that is now Texas.
March 20 – Conference finally over and I’m finally home. Didn’t get the chance to write this down at night like I did the others because I was so exhausted. All the hours of poor sleep finally catch up to you. Said goodbye to all the friends I made. Took a couple selfies with them and I had one last Texan styled breakfast. I miss it all already. Texas was very good to me. The food, the atmosphere, the monuments and the buildings, and the kids from all over the globe made it one hundred times better. We made plans to work with some clubs in the Northeast so hopefully plans fall through. I’m going to bed incredibly early to try and catch up on some sleep. Back to school now, back to track practice and back to regular life. Time for the new key stoning year in order to be able to do it all again next year. Chicago, I’m coming for you.
Dallas Omni Hotel from the top Dallas Observation Tower, approximately 470 ft up.
Luck of the Keystone, first day of conference. We also won the costume contest and got little leprechaun rubber duckies.
Screenshot from Keystone live social feed. When a photo was posted with the hashtag 2k6TEEN, hundreds of photos were shown during and after general sessions and festivities.
Keystone Wolfpack of the Boys and Girls Club of Lodi in the Geo Deck at the top of the Observation Tower.
First meal in Dallas after landing that day, running on four hours of sleep or less.
Giannina Garcia, former Keystone president and senior at the Academies at Englewood riding the mechanical bull at the Omni.