By Kim Geislinger, Core Team Member of Itasca Initiative for Student Success

The power of a relationship is the simplest, most basic, but totally necessary element needed for youth success. I’ve learned this over my years working with kids from all walks of life, but never was it more apparent than at the recent Youth Voice Community Conversation, hosted by the Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success.

The event was held to rollout and discuss survey data that paints a picture of how youth experience their Itasca area communities and what supports they have in and out of school.

As emcee for the event, I had a bird’s eye view of the exciting connections being forged through conversation about the data. I saw so many things from where I stood. I saw educators, business people, policy makers, passionate community members, and, most importantly, I saw kids! So many people came together to say, “We care about our kids. We have so much we can learn together, so much we can do together. So let’s get going!”

One of the most memorable moments for me was watching an adult who works at Deer River High School and a high school student from Nashwauk work together to verbally summarize a conversation they participated in for the rest of the group. The young person was extremely nervous to speak, but the adult coached her through it – sitting on her knees, pointing to important talking points and giving nonverbal affirmations. I thought, “Wow, there’s the power of relationship happening right in front of me.” These two people had never met, yet the young person was given the support she needed to have her voice heard.

Collaboration like this breeds new energy that boosts our work forward!

I saw this energy at the end of the evening when the Nashwauk Cheer Squad treated us to an uplifting performance to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” Now if there were only adults in the crowd, you may have spotted a few toe-tappers, but add students into the mix and everyone was off their feet, dancing and celebrating our work together to support youth from cradle to career. Here’s a short clip:

As the community groups dive into the data, each person will begin to see how he/she can support young people along the Pathway.  I believe many will be surprised by the impact they can have. You don’t have to be a teacher or parent to make a difference.  Small touches matter. Relationships matter. Listening matters.

We’re changing perceptions with this work so that every member of our communities understands that his/her involvement is vital to the success of every young person in the Itasca area.

There’s the perception and then there’s the reality. Our work is in the gap, creating relationships through collaboration so we can overturn perceptions and cultivate a new reality – one where everyone has the resources, knowledge, relationships, support and skills needed to ensure a healthy future.

You or anyone you know are welcome to get involved! Contact Anna Carlson at or call 218-349-4072.