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Duluth youth group offers chance to grow

Members of Youth For Duluth meet with Pizza Luce delivery manager Alex Ekland while asking for support for an event they are hosting Saturday. (Clint Austin /

Flannery Glisczinski is a 15-year-old freshman at Duluth Marshall High School. If you buy into labels, she’s a millennial, one of those youths who looks at a mountain and asks you where the climbing ropes and anchors are. Thing is, she might not buy into that characterization at all.

“I am so done with stereotypes,” she said. “Stereotypes are a thing of the past. We need to blow them all out of the water.”

Glisczinski is a charter member of a new group, Youth For Duluth, that plans to do just that by bringing young people from across the city’s five high schools together in an effort to serve their community. Organized out of her bedroom by East sophomore Lauren Hesch, 16, Youth For Duluth is a volunteer organization for teens by teens.

Youth for Duluth is not the result of an after-school project.

It’s not the culmination to an inspired teacher’s assignment.

It’s not associated with a school, other than on an advisory. It’s a brainchild. And Hesch is the brain behind the group. Both she and Glisczinski were actors in the Duluth Playhouse’s “Hairspray” production earlier this year. There, Hesch met students from across the city’s landscape. Inspired by new people and the independence that comes with maturity, she started taking the bus and enjoying parts of the city she rarely frequented.

“The sticky wicket has always been transportation,” Hesch said. “You’d always have to get somebody’s mom to drive you around.

“I was scared to go downtown, the West End. I didn’t go to Woodland. I didn’t experience any of it,” Hesch said.

Awakened, she acted. She brainstormed in her room, eager to develop a way for people like her to convene around a cause. Youth For Duluth was born on notepad. Not on a notebook, either. A notepad. She turned her room into a detective’s headquarters, plastering it with ideas and interests. One of the groups’ primary aims, Hesch said, is to get young people to put down their phones, their video game and remote controls and experience life with their boots on the ground.

“It’s a stereotype people have of teens,” Glisczinski said.

The group has gotten people’s attention. They’ve got members from East, Denfeld, Marshall, Harbor City International School and Lakeview Christian Academy. They’ve developed a promo video and a Facebook page. They’ve volunteered at Nordic Center’s SunFunday, teaching kids to make the Norwegian flatbread, lefse. They sent 15 volunteers to the YWCA’s Mother’s Day Walk/Run, and helped the Catholic Worker Movement renovate a home to be used to shelter victims of sex trafficking.

This is all before Saturday’s “Scavaganza” at The Nordic Center, an on-foot scavenger hunt that will officially introduce the core group to their peers. Hesch has come up with three pages of clues — “climb a tree … get a pic with Bob Dylan” — that teams will need to take a picture of. The hook is that teams will be cross-pollinated, meaning no team will have two people from the same school.

“We wanted to do something fun,” Glisczinski said. “That would get people pumped up and give them momentum to volunteer.”

Hesch credits Duluth East teacher Dani Westholm for being her mentor through the inception of the effort. She said she sheepishly went to her teacher with the idea. Westholm’s enthusiasm spurred its development.

And other adults are noticing.

“Lauren reached out to me via email and I was immediately impressed by her vision,” said city councilor Emily Larson, who has known Glisczinski since she was a little girl and couldn’t be more proud of her. “These teens are so impressive.

“They’re reaching across geographic, economic and racial lines that can hold people apart.”

The group met with Mayor Don Ness earlier this spring. Hesch said she was nervous — “the scariest moment of my life” – as if she were going to meet royalty. Afterward, he wrote a letter endorsing the group that said, in part, “I was extremely impressed by the initiative and enthusiasm of this group.”

Larson said she believes the group could serve as a lesson to all Duluthians, teaching that “reaching out of our comfort zones … can help lift up our community.”

Buoyed by acceptance, Glisczinski and Hesch planned the Scavaganza. They said the event will be a success if they can get 50 to 70 teens to join them.

“We wanted to make sure it’s not just Duluth East kids doing it,” Hesch said. “I want to live in the kind of city that accepts and loves projects like this.”

In fact, Youth For Duluth was inspired, in part, by the adults both of the girls know.

Glisczinski called Duluth a city with a small-town vibe. The adults she knows know people across the boundaries. Everybody, it seems, knows everybody, she said.

Their hope is to break down school boundaries and do the same with the city’s young people. In the process, they plan on showing adults there’s a lot more depth to young people than a silhouette of a young person staring into the void of a phone, thumbs racing.

“We’re not self-absorbed,” Hesch said.

Rather it would seem they’re sponges, soaking in all that’s alive and surrounding them.

Said Hesch, who is forever jotting her thoughts and proliferating them with dozens of emails a day, “We’re open to new ideas.”

If you go 

Event: Youth For Duluth’s Scavaganza

Where: The Nordic Center at 21A N. Lake Ave.

When: Saturday, 2-7 p.m.