The Patron Spotlight is an ongoing series in which we interview our Library visitors and find out about the interesting projects they are working on.
Linda Ryan wears many hats: She’s a fair trade coffee buyer, photographer and all-around adventurer. She has traveled to Indonesia, Palestine and Ethiopia. And although she grew up in Austin, she’s not disconnected from rural Texas. With ranch land in her family, she was in charge of a cow calf operation when she was just 20.
Rural Texas is the backdrop for her most recent adventure, as outreach director for Pioneers Youth Leadership. This impressive program gives rural high school students leadership training and education on community issues. The program had its start in 2012, when 19 students were enrolled in Real County, Texas.
Since then, Pioneers has seen immense growth. In its third year, it will serve 200 students in 16 Texas school districts . It is an accredited elective through the Texas Education Agency in eight of these districts. And in the small town of Knippa, every student in grades 10-12 is enrolled in the program.
“It’s grown because communities want our program in their schools,” said Linda. “There’s a sense of ownership for the youth in our program. They design, implement and evaluate their own work every step of the way with guidance from the Pioneers staff and the community.”
The program runs from June to May, beginning with a 4-day leadership camp. When school starts, the program provides college readiness training, and the students start developing their community projects in the areas of water conservation, entrepreneurship and education. Examples of projects include teen pregnancy seminars and school drop-out prevention programs.
The students then participate in a professional development workshop and business plan competition, in partnership with the University of Texas San Antonio Institute for Economic Development. (The top 10 Pioneers students in this competition will go on to compete at the San Antonio Livestock Show and Rodeo for $20,000 in scholarships!)
In January, students present their community projects at the state capitol with three agencies: the Texas Water Development Board, the Texas Department of Agriculture, and the Texas Education Agency. Pioneers is unique in that it provides direct correspondence between students and these state agencies.
“The program is crafted around what students have told us they need,” said Linda. “This is their program.”
As with most nonprofits, funding is the number one challenge for Pioneers. The management team is small and mostly volunteer-based, but Linda and her fellow directors are in the process of applying to relevant grants they found at the Library. Impressively, they are in the second round of the grant process for all applications they have submitted so far.
“[Library Director] Ellen was extremely generous,” said Linda. “It’s intimidating to look for funding. This resource puts you 100 steps ahead of everyone else. The time you save by working with the library is a huge benefit for a fledgling nonprofit.”
Thank you, Linda! To find out more about this awesome organization, visit pioneersyouthleadership.org.