Monmouth Chaplain Credits ‘Amazing’ Kids and Mentors for Successful LUX Summer Institute for Youth Leadership


The students and mentors who attended Monmouth College’s LUX Summer Institute for Youth Leadership June 26-28 walked some literal paths, and they also walked the broader path of building community.

“We learned this week that we are called to be in community together,” Monmouth Chaplain the Rev. Dr. John Huxtable told the group at the closing ceremony. “As we walked the path this week, one of the lessons we learned is that we don’t just love our friends, the people who think like us. We love our enemies, too.”

“You’ve made such a big impact on me this week,” high school student Elizabeth Fite of St. Joseph, Missouri, told Huxtable shortly following the ceremony, where the chaplain had reminded the gathering that “the communion table breaks down the walls.”

The bread broken there was baked by one of the five student mentors, Lina Jursa ’24, who followed up on that theme.

“Building community is important because it creates a sense of belonging and supports individuals who may seem different but share more common interests than we see,” she said. “The LUX Institute has inspired and motivated me to act towards creating community by establishing what community truly means and its significance.”

‘It completely changed my life’

Other high school students who attended were Stella Yonekawa-Blest of Houston, Texas, and Samuel Spicer of Carlinville, Illinois. The other mentors were Anna Brunner ’24, Kelsey Holtgrave ’24, Alyssa McDaniel ’25 and Emma Romano ’25.

“I attended two years ago, and it completely changed my life,” said Yonekawa-Blest. “It’s beautiful what you do with this program. I really wanted to come back this year, and hopefully next year I can come back again and help out.”

Fite also attended two years ago, when she and Yonekawa-Blest formed a lasting friendship. Yonekawa-Blest flew up from Houston to visit Fite, and the two made the five-hour drive from Missouri to Monmouth together.

Spicer said he heard about the institute through a mutual friend of his and Huxtable’s.

“There were a lot of thought-provoking conversations, and it was interesting to hear how people’s different backgrounds affect their perspectives,” he said. “Incorporating those different perspectives can help build a brighter future for bringing people together.”

Deep conversations

Huxtable said having those types of conversations isn’t always easy, but he was proud of his group’s approach.

“It’s not me. It’s these guys and the work they put in,” he said. “It was very intentional work, and they put the effort in.”

That included discussions led by Regina Johnson, director of the College’s Champion Miller Center for Student Equity, Inclusion and Community.

“Regina pushed them on important concepts and about understanding and seeing everybody,” said Huxtable. “The kids and the mentors, they were just amazing. Every minute of this was exciting. Just the energy and the excitement and to get to engage with them. They asked a lot of questions that they never asked before.”

“We had a lot of discussions about ourselves and how we could connect with other people, and we dug into larger concepts than we do in our daily lives,” said Fite.

Jursa agreed.

“My favorite part of LUX was engaging in deep conversations with everyone and hearing their unique stories,” she said. “Very rarely do we get the opportunity to listen to everyone’s personal stories, but LUX was able to create a safe environment to do just that.”

Huxtable told the students, “We built community, we had engaging dialogue, we got exhausted.”

The latter was a reference to a visit to the Horn Field Campus, one mile south of Macomb, where the group participated in team-building activities. A unit of Western Illinois University’s College of Education and Human Services, the 92-acre field campus includes woodlands, prairie and several miles of nature trails.

It made for a long day for Yonekawa-Blest and Fite, who had departed St. Joseph at 4 a.m.

The high school students had a much shorter walk when they traced a contemplative path along the College’s Dahl Labyrinth, located just behind Wallace and Poling halls.

Over the past few years, the pandemic and personnel changes halted the LUX Institute’s momentum, but Huxtable was pleased to have it back up and running, with definite plans to continue.

“You guys are my guinea pigs,” he told the students. “I couldn’t have picked a better group to do this with.”

***Courtesy of Barry McNamara, Monmouth College***

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