Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Are We Setting our Kids Up For Success in the Workforce?

I read an “ah-ha” statistic the other day from one of my favorite experts on youth leadership, Tim Elmore. He states that Generation Z is the most educated generation of all times but they lack overall experience Here is an interesting statistic he reported, 53% of Baby Boomers had a job when they were in high school, 48% of Gen Xers had jobs when they were teenagers, 30% of the Millennials had previous work experience in high school but only 19% of Generation Z ages 15-18 has had a part time job, this is 1 in every 5 teenagers. One may think this is just the changing of our world and this is not a problem in the sense that kids absolutely have to have a job. The problem lies in that some of these kids are going into the workforce at 22 years old and are not having any type of work experience at all or the skill set on how to sustain a job . Many parents are bypassing asking or requiring their teenagers to get a job and instead are having them focus on their academics or extracurricular activities. There is a rise in major decisions by parents to just “give” their children money without incentives like doing chores or other responsibilities. We are hearing more parents say, “Your school is your full time job.” In a world now where kids are overextended and lead busy lifestyles, it also becomes difficult to have time for a job or even find one that will work around their busy schedules.
Part time jobs are just as much on learning how to work, as much as learning the value of money. It becomes a challenge when kids have no work experience until the age of 22 and they enter the workforce as an adult. Sometimes the habits are formed that they are entitled to receive money without working for it. Something good happens when your exchange your talent, time, energy for a paycheck. It teaches good stewardship of money and not just an entitlement of money being given to you. Having no experience in the workforce may cause a problem of artificial maturity amongst this generation. We are seeing maturity in the sense of education and knowledge, but a deficit of maturity in ability to problem solve, establishing relationships and work ethic due to not having experience in a job.
So what do we do with this generation who may not have the time to work a part time job or the parents who are wanting them to focus on school and activities rather than work? Here are some other alternatives to get that work experience under their belt during the busy teenage years .
  1. Summer or Holiday Time Jobs- many kids have summers and long holiday breaks where they can get a short term job. Holiday season is a time that many businesses hire extra employees and these jobs can be temporary. Also great summer jobs that are attractive to this generation are lifeguards, retail, green houses, farm hands, local recreational organizations such as YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, health and fitness studios.
  2. School/ Extracurricular Activity Job Opportunities- Several schools have programs for office and administrative assistants in their central offices. Some of these positions do offer compensation. Also, check with your child’s extra curricular activity. In my business, owner of local dance studios, I have a student assistant training program that works around students activity schedules. They start at a volunteer level and have the opportunity to be paid employees when reaching their high school year. Many of the school extracurricular activities may also have these opportunities.
  3. Odd Jobs- In our digital, social, mobile busy world there are more job opportunities than ever. These jobs can be one and done jobs such as pet walker, babysitter, housecleaner, drivers for elderly, ect. Also there are some legitimate online jobs that are conducive to teenagers where they can earn extra money and gain valuable work experience such as writing, tutoring and social postings for companies. It is our job as leaders of this next generation to equip them with the necessary tools to succeed. It is so optimistic knowing that these Gen Zers are trending to be the most educated and purposeful generation of all time. Now we need to equip them to be able to hold a job in the workforce so they can make a living. Tracey Wozny/ Executive Director and Founder Taking Shape


Friday, May 24, 2019

Teenage Stress and Anxiety- How Do We Help?

The relationship between teenagers and their parents, and perhaps more accurately, teenagers and the rest of the entire world, has always been contentious. As young people move through their teenage years they are changing dramatically physically and emotionally. While hormones are raging and bodies are morphing, teens also struggle to assert their independence and sort to their identity. They begin to recognize the realities of life and often get caught between their attachment to family and relationships with friends. In our STAR Leadership program, over the past few months, we've been focusing on positive self-image and living a life of excellence. Throughout conversations with our teens aged 13-18, several interesting, and sometimes troubling subjects have come to the forefront. Many teens comment on how much stress and anxiety they have in their life along with their close friends as well. They have often brought up the subject of anxiety, depression and even deep depression. As an educator and leader of this age group, it prompted me to dive deeper into the “why” of this phenomenon. What I found validated my concerns. In a Blue Cross Blue Shield Health of America Report for 2018, there was a reported 47% increase in diagnosed anxiety and depression in ages from 17-24 from 2013 to 2018. From ages 12-17, there was a 63% increase in diagnosed anxiety and depression, (47% for boys, 65% for girls). I was even more alarmed at stats from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that reported a 77% increase in suicides in the age group 10-18 in the period from 2008-2018. Why? I was further troubled after having discussions with my own students, dance students who I have had for over 10 years in my program. These are high academic achievers, huge leaders in their schools and community. They were eager to talk about the issue and wanted someone to listen, perhaps because I wasn't a parent. To paraphrase a common response, these students often said “Many kids in our schools are depressed and have anxiety. It is very common, and kids of this generation are more depressed than you think.” "Wow", I thought. It was stunning and more than a bit concerning to hear this from young people.. Upon asking the reasons, the teens had a seemingly endless list. I broke the list down into three general categories.
  1. Today's teens are spread too thin. Teenagers have over-committed schedules with not enough time to concentrate on one thing. There can be self-generated pressure to fill and exceed through these busy schedules.
  2. There's a fear of not meeting expectations. Many teenagers in the group had brought up the pressure of not living up to expectations of parents, other adults and their peers. This amounts to the classic fear of failure and they mentioned over and over again how they were afraid to disappoint the people they are close to. .
  3. Pressures of social media to have the “perfect” life. Alright, so this was new, at least to me, and to be fair, I hadn't given it much thought from their perspective. It prompted me to dive even deeper, doing further research. I found a report from Jamison Monroe, CEO and founder of Newport Academy. It validates teens are intelligent, tech-savvy and have many positive assets as a generation of a social, digital and mobile world. However, social media is a primary source of anxiety and pressure for adolescents. Teens become particularly depressed when they compare their lives unfavorably to the people they follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Not just neighbors and schoolmates or what we would call “peers”, but any and everyone on social media. Those are unreasonable expectations.
Monroe's report discussed how scientists have also found correlations between teen smartphone use and depression. It demonstrates how excessive use of technology damages relationships, education, and extracurricular activities. It also reaches other reasonable conclusions:

  • Many teens experience some degree of academic pressure. In addition, an uncertain economy and tough competition for college and graduate school make that pressure even worse.
  • Teens, of course, typically experience their first romantic relationships in high school or college. While this is an essential part of teen development, teen relationships can also be emotionally challenging.
  • Today’s teens have fewer coping skills. Parents try to shield them from experiencing failure and disappointment. That means they often have fewer opportunities to build resilience. They frequently don't know how to pick themselves up and dust themselves off. Thus, they don’t learn how to cope with challenges.
  • The adolescent brain is still growing. Hence, teens have an immature prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls self-regulation. Many decisions they seem to make are not real decisions they have made at all. They have a limited ability to exert control over their impulses. Consequently, this leads to teenage risk behaviors, such as substance abuse and unsafe sexual choices.
  • Today’s adolescents spend so much time on screens that they don’t get outside enough. This subjects them to “nature deficit disorder” a phrase coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book “Last Child in the Woods”. Because teens and children are spending less time outdoors, they experience a wide range of behavioral and mental health problems.
It was becoming apparent to me that while today's teens have the challenges of the past generations, they are less capable of coping. They also have the additional challenges of social media that has not been a factor previously. Add in school shootings, heightened ecological fears, increased political uncertainty, social injustice, and other factors, and I was getting a clearer and clearer picture.
Today's teenagers are under more pressure than ever and are less equipped to handle those pressures. The result? Frequently high anxiety and deep depression.
So, what can we do as parents, educators, and people of previous generations to combat this rise of depression in our teens? What should we be doing to help them through this critical period of their lives? I was able to break it down into three critical components.

  1. Create awareness and a framework to cope. Talking with family members, your team or faculty, and teens themselves to let them know this is a rising issue. Help them understand how to set structure around the feelings they are experiencing. (I developed a leadership curriculum program I use with my teens called Taking Shape STAR Leadership program where we discuss several current issues that teens face such as positive self image, bullying, ect).
  2. Set up guidelines and limits to social media usage. A CNN study of 13-year-olds and their relationship with social media found that participants who checked Instagram or other networking sites between 50 and 100 times a day were 37% more distressed than those who checked just a few times a day. Those who checked more than 100 times a day were 47% more distressed on average. The more checking, the more stress. I have a no cell phone policy at our studio. Teens come in and check phones in a basket on arrival and pick up at end of the day. This allows them to establish better personal relationships and talk among friends, problem solve and have fun!
  3. Limit overextended schedules, taking time for mindfulness and reflection. Have kids take an audit of all of their schedule. What do they really “love” to do and what are they doing that can be taken off their plates. My students now yearn for “yoga” class where they can get their mind off the grid. There's been an interesting trend in “mindfulness” classes in the school system in the past 3 years. This is telling us kids need to slow down.
I feel it is our purpose as leaders of this generation to find ways to establish these relationships with our teens. They don’t need information from us, they can get this in seconds on their devices. What they need is caring, listening ears, the experience of generations that have “been there, done that” to help them strengthen values of resilience, discipline, and building relationships.
We also need something too. We need to understand that things are in fact, different for this generation of teens. They grew up differently. They have almost unlimited access to technology and are more connected than ever. They are exposed to more real dangers in their young lives.
I have always felt these kids are worth the effort. It's why I've made them such a significant part of my daily life and career. If we can better understand these teens, we can better help them. That is a goal worth pursuing.




Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Our WHY - The Origins of Taking Shape

This story begins in tiny rural Missouri, off the beaten path, at Shapes Dance and Acro Studio—the studio where I’ve been the owner and director for over 25 years.  It’s where I’ve proudly taught dance, tumbling, acrobatics, and more to thousands of kids and teens!  It’s also where I developed a passion for teaching my students how to achieve their ambitions through experiences, opportunities, discipline, and strength of character.

In this small-town community, a typical high school senior class sends less than 40% of its graduates to college.  Many settle for less than their full potential because they haven’t known anything different in their lives; they simply stay in their comfort zones.  And so it became my personal mission to positively impact our students at SDA so that they would not fall into this statistic.  With that in mind, I began teaching the fundamentals of what is now Taking Shape’s STAR Leadership curriculum, offering class discussions about topics like being kind, building resilience, having a great work ethic, and living a life of gratitude. 

Over time, our students evolved into true leaders at their schools and in the community, proving themselves stronger and smarter than they ever thought before.  I’m humbled to say that with this mindset shift, 90% of our students go on to college after high school.  And I’ve now seen the evidence that our efforts to change young lives are working!

After seeing these successful results, I began to think bigger.  I founded Taking Shape with the intent to create a global servant leadership movement reaching people Here in our local communities, Near in our surrounding cities and states, and Far across the globe.  The STAR Leadership curriculum became its own stand-alone program for SDA and also available to other dance studios.  The Here and Near programs grew to include our outreach in and around the Kansas City area.  And the Far program took off after my first trip to Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 2015.

That year I shadowed a friend during her mission camp.  I wanted to learn and soak in every lesson of global service and leadership possible!  On a side trip home one day, we stopped at LePhare Orphanage, where I met a young man named Davidson with an infectious smile.  He spoke English pretty well, and he told me more about the orphans (there were 23) and the faith and hope they all had as a “family.”  His father, Jean Dieuregard, was the pastor of the orphanage.

Davidson took me on a tour of the house, which took my breath away.  When we went up the stairs, it took us to the roof.  The roof, it turned out, was where the orphans slept, because there was not enough room or enough beds downstairs, and of course, it was hot.  At that moment I felt a huge tug on my heart from God that said I could and should do something to help.  I immediately began an action plan when I got home to Missouri.

My brother, a general contractor, drew up construction plans.  We hired a team of all-Haitian workers, and after many trials and tribulations during the two-year process, I’m ecstatic to report that LePhare Orphanage finally has a proper roof.  It also now has an additional seven bedrooms, three bathrooms, a living room, and a balcony.  But there is more to be done to serve LePhare.  Taking Shape’s next goal is to provide the children with an education, and so we are building a school!

Through our Far program and missionary work, I know we will reach this goal.  100% of our proceeds are going toward the school, and with our missionaries’ efforts we will continue to positively impact these young lives with this opportunity for an education.

I would have never guessed, 25 years ago, that becoming a studio owner in rural Missouri would lead me down this path of servant leadership.  But now I can see an impact far greater than my biggest dreams.  Taking Shape has truly formed my “why” in life; I hope it can do the same for you!

Monday, November 26, 2018

"When you are gifted much, much is expected of you" - A young souls perspective of Haiti

Check out a story from our Taking Shape STAR Leader, Savanah Wozny
Meet Davidson and Evanston! These twelve year old boys love to show off and are quite the acrobats! They are two of the orphans that live at Lephare Orphanage in Port au Prince, Haiti and attend our Taking Shape leadership and performing arts camps. Both times that I have been teaching our mission camps to these children I have been truly amazed at their raw talent. Some of the things they can do are things I have been training years for! They flip, walk on their hands, and can headstand all day long; on dirt and rock, mind you! There are no mats in the streets of Haiti!

I really became attached to these two boys as I saw how they loved to perform and how much strength they have. I seriously can’t believe how naturally talented these kids are! Both of these boys are always wanting to play and jump around. There is never a time that these two boys didn’t want to kick a soccer ball around for hours, or flip their bodies around the orphanages concrete or gravel floors. They just love being active and love having an audience.

I especially love these boys because both of them are never phased by the cool technology (our phones and iPads) we bring to the children to play with after a long day of camp. Because the kids never get the chance to play with technology, they are amazed with our electronics. Davidson and Evanston, however, could care less about the electronics; they just want to play even after a long day of camp! I have never seen these two boys with my iPad or phone in their hands. They are constantly wanting to play soccer, tag or they simply just want to be held and given attention to. It makes my heart grow a little bit bigger when I see these two boys because they value our worth and they personally love us, not what we bring for entertainment.

In December, I will travel back to Haiti to teach my fourth leadership camp with these kids. We started with just a team of 3 people; myself, my mom and my cousin Sam. Now, we are taking a team of 18, with the majority of us being college students. How awesome is that! I can’t wait to show the new mission campers what these kids have to offer. The love they share, the gratitude they show, and the trust they have in me and in Taking Shape, is so inspiring. I can’t wait to see how Haiti affects the other campers on this trip and how their lives will change.

Usually people ask me, “How was your trip to Haiti?” Most of the time my answer is, “It’s just something I can’t even explain, you just have to go and experience it yourself.” It’s incredible how you go into a mission trip like this thinking you’re going to help these kids, but in reality every time I leave, I discover that these kids help me. They have made me a stronger leader, they have taught me how to be grateful for what I have and to understand what is in important in life. These kids are more like siblings to me, and there is no greater feeling than being loved by them and their solid gold souls. We certainly learn from each other. ♥️

Savanah Wozny- Taking Shape STAR Leader

If you feel moved to give click here we would love to hit our goal this #givingtuesday to help our December mission trip!

Friday, October 19, 2018

Developing Trust as a Gen Z Leader

This month in our STAR Leadership program we have been focusing on the importance of building TRUST as a successful leader. Today, it seems more than ever, we can get confused about what a true leader is. We may believe that a leader is someone who has the most friends, has the most likes on a post, or even has the most views on a video. We can confuse leadership with popularity, and one doesn't necessarily equate to the other. Being a successful leader requires trust between the leader and those who follow. Not blind trust, but deep seeded faith in the leader and his or her decision-making ability. It is trust that is not earned by votes or fans. Our STAR Leaders dove deep into the following character values that are pertinent to establishing trust as a leader: Integrity Integrity means doing the right thing, no matter the consequences. Some have said it is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. It is having standards, even higher standards than most and living up to them. Generation Z is already more purpose-driven and that is a good baseline for integrity. Maintaining integrity involves making the right decisions more often. When one has an ability to determine who is authentic and who is fake, it helps weed out those who may be a threat to integrity. Honesty Honesty starts with being your true self. It is dishonest to try to be someone you are not or to say things to get attention or approval. It actually can be a relief to not have to hide who you really are. Honesty is being honest in your actions and being upfront with what you believe. Keep in mind, however, hurting people through actions or words is not a sign of honesty in leadership. Honesty can also be earned by being unselfish and having a focus on others. It can be strengthened by being empathetic and creating habits of being a good listener. Loyalty Loyalty takes commitment and perseverance. It is earned through consistency in the values listed above, integrity and honesty. Consistency is an area that is difficult for Gen Zers as they live in a digital, social and mobile world where they are used to getting quick results. If results don’t happen quick, this generation has trouble sticking with it. The good news however is that Generation Z leans towards more conservative and traditional values. With the right guidance and support system, these kids can strengthen their values in loyalty by creating solid habits consistently and seeing the value in their results. Reliability Reliability is earned and established by a pattern of consistent behavior. Reliability is living up to commitments even when you don't want to. It is doing what you say you are going to do. It is being timely. When people can count on you, you are building the foundation as a leader. There are no “cheats”, hacks or shortcuts. Every day there are opportunities, some big and some small, to exercise reliability as a true leader. As an educator and parent of the kids of Generation Z, I have found that they are like sponges. When exposed to these character values in the way they receive information, they get excited. The “light bulb” comes on and they love to jump into conversation on their experiences and ideas. I am so optimistic of this amazing generation! What they need from us as adults is for us to serve as a compass. We can take responsibility for our next generation of leaders and provide opportunities, examples, and guidance. We can all then, have renewed faith in our future.


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

August 2018 - Day 6 - Haiti Mission Trip

Final day in Haiti with our camp and team. What a week it has been!

We checked out of the guest house and loaded up like Sanford and Son in our tap tap. A final goodbye to our guest house and on the road to our final "party" day at camp.

Today was a day of showcasing everything we learned during our camp, letting the children do any special songs or dances that they had made up on their own. Oh and guess what?! Bob was back for the party! Check Bob out chasing the chicken during the showcase.

We finished the camp celebrated with a meal of chicken and rice and fruit punch. Our team got to hand out several prizes for our "superstar" students of the week and everyone left with a Taking Shape book bag full of school supplies to start the new school season. A huge thank you to Showcase Dance Studio and OBX the Studio Karma Kids program for the generous back to school donations.
Also a HUGE thank you to the amazing translators and volunteers from Cepras and their president Benson Jean. Benson is also an extremely talented photographer and captured the pure essence of our camp this week! 

We left the camp after a huge water balloon fight and many hugs and goodbyes that we will return next year.

A last hour stop at Lephare to eat lunch and pick up Greg before we left for our flight. Look what Greg completed while we were at camp all week!  A gazebo for shade and shelter for the orphanage children and a resting area for our future mission campers that will be housed at Lephare during our next camp this December. The materials for this project were donated by Leo Perez from Lee Summit, MO. 

What a week it has been. A week of growth with our team, relationships with so many wonderful people in Haiti and love in our heart! It is always hard to say goodbye but we will be back soon. Until next time in December our friends!! We learn more from you than you learn from us!



Monday, August 13, 2018

August 2018 - Day 5 - Haiti Mission Trip



Today is a day off from camp. We have scheduled a water truck delivery in the mountains of Titanyen, Haiti where after the 2010 earthquake many survivors went to the mountains to live but do not have access to running water. Many other missionaries in Haiti are part of water truck delivery where you purchase a semi tank of water and hire a driver to deliver it the area needing water. Teams meet up with the water truck and help disperse and carry water that comes out of a huge hose.

What an experience this was! The road up the mountain was gravel and dirt with several 2-3 foot holes every couple yards and our vehicles were stick shift, which even made it even more of an interesting challenge. The homes up the mountain ranged from 20 x 20 shacks made of tin to small tents made of canvas and sticks. We finally arrive at the top of the mountain to meet the water truck that hadn't made it yet. As we got out of our tap tap we saw many young Haitian kids come from their homes to greet us, they knew we were coming with water! Since the truck hadn't arrived yet we passed the time with some teenage Haitian boys from the mountain who played a round of basketball and soccer with Sammy, Ben and Davidson on a playground area that was built from another American missionary group. Alongside of the basketball game, Beana was greeted by young girls from the neighborhood who gave her some fancy hairdos!

Water truck finally arrived and things starting getting CRAZY! People came running from everywhere with their buckets for water. The water truck driver jumped out of the truck and filled big barrels with water. Many Haitian women were in a frenzy to help scoop out the water into the 5 gallon buckets for the children and other members of their family to carry to their house. Our job was to help carry them to their home. This was certainly a work out! Insanely amazed that some of these young children could carry this water further than we could.

During the water transport we also had kits of baby items such as diapers, soap, clothes and washcloths that we handed out to the families. The baby items were donated from Crystal's generous families of Showcase Dance Studio! Another set of donation were flip flops that came from Malia Casner and many ladies from Carrollton, MO. This was a sight! We decided to distribute these from the tap tap like we were setting up "shop" and the swarm quickly came. So many children needing shoes. Our tap tap van was a popular place for about 10 minutes until we ran out.

This was a gratifying day for the team as we left feeling like we really did valuable work but oh, was it heartbreaking!  Shoes and water, something we so easily take for granted, were such a scarcity among the Haitians living in these mountains.

We finished our day at the beautiful Wahoo Beach with our team!