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YSB Leader To Receive “Adventure Education’ Award

As the adviser of the Manchester Youth Commission, Heather Wlochowski gets to work with many talented, ambitious. creative  young people.

But the unassuming Wlochowski intentionally maintains a certain distance as the students get involved in public service projects, advocate for their peers to town leaders, and otherwise give an important voice to youth in town.

“I don’t feel that I’m ever the authority on anything,” Wlochowski says, adding that “I never sit at the head of the table.”

Although she prefers keeping a low profile, Wlochowski will be in the spotlight later this month when she travels to Vermont to receive a prestigious award from the High 5 Adventure Learning Center, a Brattleboro-based non-profit educational organization known worldwide for its adventure education and training programs for all levels of practitioners.

The center annually recognizes individuals who have distinguished themselves in the field of adventure education.

“It was clear after our last site visit,” wrote Ryan McCormick, the center’s Edge of Leadership Program Director, “after hearing your story and learning your history with Manchester Youth Bureau and the Youth Commission, that you don’t just meet our criteria for this award, you surpass it.”

The Youth Service Bureau has for the past few years sent a contingent to Vermont for a summer retreat, and when Wlochowski made the trip she shared insights and tips gleaned over her 15 years working at the YSB.

McCormick’s comments make it clear that her influence has been appreciated.

“Thank you,” he wrote, “not only for your dedication to our field, but for your exemplary work serving youth and changing lives. “

"Heather is certainly deserving of this honor," said Sharon Kozey, director of the YSB. "She has been an important contributor to our department for such a long time, and she has made a powerful, positive difference in the lives of many young people in Manchester. We know this and appreciate her, but getting this external validation is special."

Wlochowski said she is thrilled and humbled by the award in large part “because of the level of respect I have for them.”

But she also is quick to redirect attention to where she says it belongs -- on the young people she supports as a YSB coordinator.

Although she wears a lot of hats, figuratively speaking, Wlochowski might best be known for her work with the Youth Commission.

Since 2008, a total of 47 teens have been part of the group -- serving two-year terms, and, in many cases, staying on board (as they are allowed to do) until they graduate from high school.

Incidentally, the vast majority of youth commission members have been students at MHS, although there has occasionally been a Manchester resident who attends East Catholic, Cheney or some other high school.

Wlochowski is loathe to brag, but acknowledges that she believes she has a bit of a gift in her ability to help engage young people who can be difficult to reach.

And she said that there are times that, yes, even Youth Commission students can get distracted, or lose focus.

But -- by “laying low,” by making sure she isn’t too vocal or doesn’t do too much --  Wlochowski has a knack for helping students develop responsibility and accountability.

“I’m their advisor,” she says, “but my goal is to make sure I’m relying on young people to advise me.”

Her approach certainly works.

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