Many would agree that the young people of the Hudson community are one of its biggest assets when it comes to serving others and shaping future generations. Throughout the past 35 years, nonprofit Youth Action Hudson (YAH) has made fulfilling this vision its mission.
“I got involved with Youth Action Hudson, because I loved the YAH philosophy of empowering Hudson youth to make a difference in our community,” says high school junior Kelley Nelson, who first became involved as a freshman. “Not only has YAH given me the opportunity to help others, but it has also taught me planning and leadership skills, and shown me that I can have a positive effect on others.”
The nonprofit originally started as Community Action in 1981, a subset of a coalition for adults. In 2000, the group evolved to a more traditional intervention program, focusing on youth drug prevention, but it had the potential to be so much more. In 2008 it became YAH as it is today, focusing on empowering the natural talents of kids grades nine through 12. “We’re still prevention in the most primal definition, where we try to let the youth have other options of ways to productively spend their time,” says youth programs manager Alyson Sauter, who’s been at YAH for four years, but she also notes 70 percent of students are also involved in high school sports or other extracurriculars.
In short, YAH strives to provide students with as many opportunities as possible to brainstorm ideas for change. But change in what way? “Change in any way,” Sauter says. “A compost bin in the high school, or a different way to look at weight loss that doesn’t emphasize being skinny. I try to give them guidance as to steps to take, the questions to think about, and they do all the rest.”
“Youth Action Hudson showed me hands-on that youth can truly make a difference,” says Shayla Koeckeritz, a YAH Scholarship recipient and 2016 graduate of Hudson High School. “YAH provides experiences and knowledge that cannot be made at home and cannot be learned in a classroom.”
There are no fees for being a part of Youth Action Hudson. Every Monday at 3 p.m., a group of 10–15 teens meets at YAH office at 901 Fourth St. for advisory board meetings, but it’s not a closed session. Anyone can come and weigh in on upcoming events or ideas for future ones. Sauter creates a loose agenda, then gives students the floor; they often come up with new programs at these meetings.
“Sustainable programs have come from this,” Sauter says. “For example, the Hudson Community Wide Book Drive started as an idea in this meeting, and now we’ve done it three years, through a partnership with Hand in Hand for Literacy. About 5,500 books have been sent to HIH. That idea came from a student, Deena Whitwam, a 2015 graduate of Hudson High School, who planned and facilitated it all on her own.”
Youth Action tries to offer one program a month, 12 months a year: Operation Christmas Child, Empty Bowls to raise hunger awareness, bimonthly packing parties at Feed My Starving Children. While the programs are for high school students, YAH partners with the middle school Leaders’ Club at Hudson YMCA and also offers a peer-to-peer program that goes into fifth-grade classrooms giving presentations to combat bullying.
“Youth Action Hudson has not only changed my life and who I am as a person, but so many of my peers’ lives as well,” senior Rosa Dunn says. “Through YAH, my expectations for my own future have been raised, and I am determined to make a change in the world.”
Youth Action Hudson is the only organization in Hudson to offer the Presidential Volunteer Service Award. This award recognizes U.S. citizens for their commitment to service in their community. To be eligible for the award, students must complete more than 100 hours of service in a 12-month period. “We have awarded more than 100 students with this award in the past four years, and more than 80 of those students have received the award for two-plus years,” Alyson Sauter says.