Boys State of Kansas changes lives


The 75th session of the American Legion Boys State of Kansas is underway, and I couldn’t be prouder to be part of a group of men making a difference in the lives of today’s youth.

This is my fifth year on staff and my second year as being a the media counselor in charge of the Boys State Yearbook. I was a participant in the program — known as a Stater — in 2003. I was a counselor for a couple years as I was in charge of the Staters Union Newspaper, and then I went on a hiatus for a time due to some family issues.

At that point, I thought I was done with the program, but then I ran into KS Boys State Director of Development Thane Chastain. I have kept in touch with Chastain over the years, but I hadn’t approached him about Boys State for a long time.

When I saw him that day, though, I was compelled to ask about the program.

He said he had an opening on the media staff for the yearbook spot.

I jumped on it.

The question is: why did I get involved again?

Before I can answer that question. I need to give you a little background.

For those of you who don’t know, Boys State is a week-long government camp for high school males entering their senior year.

But simply calling it a government camp isn’t right. It is so much more than that. It is a leadership camp that uses government as a model to facilitate the learning of leadership.

Government is used because, as Chastain said, “The fact is it affects all of our lives. It is a good model.”

In order to allow the Staters the chance to become leaders, the entire program is project-based. Staters can run for offices and take part in jobs and activities that government leaders actually take part in.

The hope is also to build patriotism, Chastain said.

To facilitate this, there is no political slant to the program. The staff is intentionally diverse in terms of beliefs.

This benefits Staters because they can hear different view points and decide their own beliefs by analyzing what they’ve said and heard. The key is to listen.

“It’s like a smorgasbord for your ears,” Chastain said. “It’s one thing to be influenced by people. It’s another thing to simply parrot back what you’ve heard.”

The slogan of KS Boys State is, “A week that changed my life.”

And this simple sentence could be the answer to why I got involved in the program again. Boys State truly changed my life. As a Stater, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I just thought it sounded like a good opportunity.

Once at State, I decided at the last minute to run for the newspaper staff, which produces a daily newspaper during the week of State.

I didn’t have any journalism experience prior to this, but I had been writing creative short stories since I was in the fourth grade. Writing for a newspaper seemed like something I could do and enjoy.

At the first newspaper meeting, I became the editor-in-chief. Without realizing it, my life path had been altered forever.

I fell in love with journalism.

I went on to study journalism in college, get my bachelor’s degree in communication, run two student newspapers and work for several media outlets. Now I am a high school journalism teacher.

Boys State was a week that changed my life.

It showed me the world of journalism, and it showed me the world of teaching when I became a counselor.

It also showed me how to be a better leader. I figured out my own management style because of Boys State. I’m no the type that yells. I like to use humor and sarcasm. I treat people with respect first. When they receive respect, people are more likely to respond positively to you so the task at hand can be accomplished.

So I come back to help with the program because I see the immense value it provides. It has clearly had a huge impact on my life, and as Chastain said, it provides many other  benefits. Several of the counselors here become life-long friends. Others have learned so much about government they have run for office. In fact, the mayors of Winfield and Harper are both on staff this year.

I love being around, as Chastain said, such a diverse group of people. It is so easy in life to surround yourself with people who think similarly to you. Boys State prevents this. Every day I am exposed to a variety of view points. It is wonderful.

Even with all of this stacked up as evidence of why I keep coming back, it still doesn’t quite cover it.

I have an incredible emotional attachment to this program. I find myself getting choked up at times. I don’t know why. I just love being a part of this program. Last year I was reminded of this attachment, and this year I want to try to put my finger on what that emotional attachment stems from.

Also, since I’ve come back as the yearbook counselor, I don’t work as closely with the Staters as other counselors. I’m more of a behind the scenes counselor. I’m working on changing that. Even as I run around with my camera capturing memories of the week, I am going to try to connect with the Staters. This is something I have learned how to do rather rapidly as a teacher, and I intend to transfer this ability to the world of Boys State.

When I was first a counselor in 2004, I made many friends. When I came back last year, a vast majority of those friends were no longer with the program. Several still were. There were many familiar faces. People I consider friends, and I was grateful for that. But the lower number was a surprise.

It made me sad, and I think people probably thought I was more of an introvert than I really am. I was trying to digest the fact that the face of the program had changed. Not only the staff members were different, but how the program functioned and interacted with the Staters had shifted. This program change is for the best, but it was a shock to my system. It took some time for me to digest it all.

However, this year, I am all in again. I understand how the program is now, and I love it even more. The focus is continually being shifted toward the benefit of the Staters, and as a teacher who does whatever he can for his students, this is something I whole-heartedly support.

That’s why I am proud to be a part of the program. It is evolving to meet the needs of the Staters, and I love working with students and helping them be the best they can be.

My goal for this year, besides figuring out my emotions, is to cement the friendships I created last year and make more.

And I want to get more involved in the off-season. I want to help with fundraising efforts, the curriculum, recruitment and anything else I can.

I’ve begun working on all of this, but I’m not done yet. Luckily for me, I’ve got until Saturday to put in the time and effort.

But already I’ve a moment of incredible pride. This moment came during check-in.

I have three of my high school students attending State this year. When I saw them walking up to finalize their registration in the program, my heart swelled.

I am so stoked to be able to help pass on the incredible experience I had here to them. After all, this is a week to change a lifetime.

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