By Mike Straus
The West Kelowna Youth Ambassadors self-development program is gearing up for its 2018 season, with candidates set to be introduced on February 18 at The Heritage Retirement Residence on Brown Road.
The program, now in its fourth year, is a comprehensive personal development course that teaches public speaking, interview skills, simple cooking, social etiquette, and self-defence.
Chairperson Ricki Morin says that the program is designed for both young women and young men, and teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17 are eligible to participate.
“We also accept 18-year-olds provided that they’re planning to stay in the Okanagan after they graduate high school,” Morin says. “You can’t represent West Kelowna if you live in Calgary.”
Morin says the program is quite expansive in its scope. Participants attend civics workshops, fencing classes, local history exhibits, and much more, with the end goal of competing in a series of judged events.
The program also incorporates a speech competition and a variety of local volunteer initiatives.
Participants are coached on their speeches by Toastmasters members, and the rules of the speech competition state that all speeches must be four minutes in length and fully memorized. Cue cards are allowed, but may only contain basic points.
“Toastmasters teaches our candidates to give these speeches from memory. The topics are very versatile—it’s amazing what these young people come up with. I’m quite impressed. There are a few things they’re not allowed to talk about, of course—we don’t want to be controversial or offend anyone, so we don’t allow speeches about politics, religion, or sexuality—but anything else goes.”
But it’s not just skills development. The Youth Ambassador program also places a heavy emphasis on community involvement and outreach, and gives young people a variety of opportunities to complete the volunteer hours required by the provincial high school curriculum.
“We ask young people to attend community functions, and we also call upon them to volunteer with fundraisers for organizations like the food bank. We write down all of their volunteer hours—and we do a lot of volunteering.”
Additionally, all participants are expected to deliver a speech about their sponsors—businesses and organizations in the local community that agree to participate.
The nearly five-month-long program culminates in a final pageant, in which participants compete in a talent competition, a costumed fashion show, a formal wear fashion show, and an impromptu interview.
“This year’s theme is Heroes of the World,” Morin explains. “So the costume for the fashion show should be themed around someone in sports, medicine, or world affairs—someone who has changed the world.”
At the end of the judged events, the participant with the highest number of total accumulated points is named Ambassador, with the second and third place participants named Vice Ambassador and Second Vice Ambassador, respectively.
Morin says that the best part of organizing the program is seeing firsthand the benefits that its participants experience.
“The transformation that these young people undergo in just six months is simply stunning. They become so mature and so confident.”
The West Kelowna Youth Ambassadors program will be introducing its 2018 candidates on Feb. 18 at 2 p.m.at The Heritage Retirement Residence on Brown Road.
There’s an information session about the program on Jan. 29 from 7 to 9 p.m. at The Heritage on Brown Road.