Rotary hosting local and Bosnian exchange students for youth leadership event

A group of local students and Bosnian exchange students will engage in discussions Saturday on building relationships and and solving problems through peace.

The Rotary Youth Leadership, Advocacy & Service Day will be held all day at Sinclair Community College Ponitz Center.

The event is part of a Rotary initiative called Youth & Peace in Action, which aims to prepare students aged 14 through 18 to become “certified peacebuilders,” according to Kelly Lehman, co-chair of the Rotary District 6670 Peace Advocacy, Leadership & Service Day committee.

“Our community has a unique opportunity to contribute to equipping young people to be at the center of building and sustaining a culture of peace,” Lehman said.

The majority of Ohio students participating in this initiative are from the Dayton Regional STEM School.

“Their high school principal, Jessica Short, is amazingly supportive and gave her students community service credit hours for being part of the Youth Peace in Action Leadership Day,” Lehman said.

Participants on Saturday will also include a group of 15 students and three teachers from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lehman said, who are spending three weeks in Dayton as part of an exchange program through the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy, Sarajevo.

ExploreDayton rolls out welcome mat for exchange group from Bosnia

The group, which arrived in Dayton in mid-April, is learning about democracy, diversity, volunteerism, civic discourse and community engagement alongside of American peers while also getting a taste of American life by staying with local host families, according to Miranda Brooks, of the Dayton Mediation Center.

The visiting teachers and teenage students recently attended a Dayton City Commission meeting and afterwards got to experience America’s pastime at a Dayton Dragons game.

They also toured the Dayton Arcade and have learned about the structure, operations and functions of Dayton’s government from city staff and officials, and they have dined at some well-known establishments around town.

“This just adds a dimension that none of us could have foreseen (while planning this),” Lehman said of the exchange students’ willingness to get involved.

In preparation for Saturday’s peacebuilding event, a group of Rotarians in District 6670, which includes Dayton-area clubs, has been working with students since November 2021 using NewGen Peacebuilders’ “Youth & Peace in Action” online peace education platform and peacebuilder certification process.

The six month virtual curriculum teaches students peacebuilding, creative problem-solving, and conflict resolution skills, Lehman said.

“We thought, instead of just having a symposium, what if we spend six months with these students and we all do this online curriculum together, have once-a-month Zoom conversations on peace ... do the really hard, gritty work, then we celebrate all the things we learned together,” Lehman said. “That is a meaningful experience, and that’s what we’ve done.”

ExploreVOICES: Encourage youth to build a culture of peace and service

Today’s event will include service work to support three local charities, including Femme Aid Collaborative, Days for Girls International Huber Heights Chapter, and the Dayton International Peace Museum.

Several speakers will also present during the event, with a theme of exploring rights and advocacy. This includes a presentation on environmental issues by Wright State University professor Volker Bahn and Rachel Carr of the University of Dayton Fitz Center for Leadership; a look at equitable access by Sinclair Community College professor Amaha Selassie; and examination of human rights by Wright State professor Jessica Penwell Barnett.