Usually the term “export” carries positive connotations of economic vitality, but not always.
An oft-heard phrase in Wyoming is that the state’s number one export is its kids. While job options may drive the export of Wyoming’s youth to pursue a more urban lifestyle, fostering a sense of belonging in college and career-aged young adults may help stop the outflow, keeping them here to contribute to family, career and community endeavors.
In Sheridan, many young adults have found that sense of belonging with the Jaycees, an organization dedicated to empowering people ages 18-40 to create positive change in their communities through leadership training, community service and social networking.
“You hear the talk around town, or statewide even, that ‘all the young kids are leaving,’ ‘they don’t want to stay here,’ ‘our number one export is our kids.’ You hear that a lot, so I think an organization like this really gives you that belonging and makes you want to stay,” Sheridan Jaycees President Michelle Edwards said. “Once you are in and you have all these friends, and you’re doing all these events, and you have these duties, even, it improves your quality of life.”
The Jaycees, which is short for United States Junior Chamber and has ties to the Chamber of Commerce in each of its locations around the nation, was started in the 1920s and has had prominent members of society in its ranks including aviator Charles Lindbergh, former President Bill Clinton and former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Local leaders who have been members of the Jaycees include Sheridan City Council members Alex Lee, Jesus Rios and Kristin Kelly, state Reps. Kathy Coleman and John Patton, Ptolemy Data Systems CEO Ryan Mulholland and U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi.
The Sheridan Jaycees have been active in the community for more than 50 years and currently have more than 30 members. Four local Jaycees officers recently sat down with The Sheridan Press to talk about what they do and why the organization is important to them.
Edwards described the organization as three-pronged.
The most visible prong is community service, and volunteer opportunities are often what draw members into the organization. Events held by the Sheridan Jaycees range from a fun run where contestants dress in wacky green costumes to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, to an annual Christmas Shopping Tour that allows underprivileged youth to buy gifts for their to casino nights at Sheridan College and a Halloween Parade in downtown Sheridan.
“There’s so many opportunities to give back to the community,” Vice President of Community Brianna Straub said. “There’s that opportunity year-round, and we give that to the people. There’s such a variety of opportunities that there’s almost always going to be something that matches your interests.”
A second prong is personal and professional development, which is accomplished through a variety of training sessions and through members stepping up to be project managers for events.
All four women said being part of the Jaycees gives young adults a safe place to practice business and leadership skills, which has direct positive results in their careers both now and in the future.
The third prong is social interaction. While a heart for volunteer service got Edwards, Straub, Vice President of Individual Development Jamie Ostermyer and Vice President of Management Billie Chapman in the door of the Jaycees, all four women said a desire to find a group of friends was an underlying reason to join.
Whether young adults are returning home after college or have moved to the area to pursue their first career, they often find themselves struggling to connect with others their age.
“I’m so glad I’ve done it. It’s done great things for me, personally and professionally. I just really like the Jaycees!” Edwards said, unable to keep a joyful squeal out of her voice.
All four women said they had planned on leaving Sheridan after a few years at their first job or when an internship was done. However, having volunteer opportunities and a network of friends with the Jaycees played a big role in their decisions to settle down in the area.
Chapman, who works as a clinical social worker at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said the mental health aspect of having a good support system in place should not be downplayed. She also said she’d add a fourth “prong” of leadership development to the purpose of the Jaycees.
“I can’t not add the mental health aspect of it, especially since suicide rates have really been making the news lately,” Chapman said. “Having that belonging, having that quality of life, having a sense of meaning and purpose and a support system really, because the Jaycees provide that, too, helps people be healthier beings.”
The Sheridan Jaycees host a variety of community events throughout the year. Get involved as a participant or contact the Jaycees to become a member or volunteer. Find the Sheridan Jaycees on Facebook, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit sheridanjaycees.org.
• monthly business meetings and social gatherings the first and third Tuesdays of each month.
• leadership trainings on finance, business management and more throughout the year.
• Halloween Parade with downtown trick-or-treating: Oct. 25, 2014
• Christmas Shopping Tour, which allows underprivileged children to shop for Christmas gifts for their family: Dec. 12, 2014.
• St. Patrick’s Day Fun Run: annual event, date to be announced.
• Nothing but Nets, a fundraiser with an international reach that provides mosquito nets for children in third-world countries to prevent malaria: annual event, date to be announced.
By Hannah Sheely