By Cheyenne Stewart
2021-22 Key Club International Trustee

High school pulled me out of my very lonely middle school years and molded me into a servant leader – but it took more than the classroom. I needed a club to find belonging amongst my peers and I want school leaders to know how powerful club participation can be at a time when students are longing for connection.

Before my freshman year, I truly embodied my name. I was shy, afraid of leaving my comfort zone and worried I would not find meaningful friendships. Oftentimes, I felt like a lone wolf because I did not have close ties to fellow students in my school. Fortunately, I was welcomed in at my school’s Key Club and that ultimately changed my trajectory.

The upperclassmen extended the kind of advice, guidance and kindness I hadn’t experienced elsewhere. The club was inclusive, and I finally felt at home. With so many teens facing what has been coined the “loneliness epidemic” and battling mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, we need more high schoolers to be as lucky as I was.

I want more high schoolers to benefit from the same opportunities that were available to me. That’s why I’m calling on teachers, principals, and superintendents across the country to consider establishing or expanding service-oriented clubs in their own schools.

I’m now a sophomore at Notre Dame and I look back fondly on the service projects, friendships and worldwide adventures I experienced through my high school club. I have so many good memories, and one is the new service project I started that connected me and my classmates to residents at a senior citizen’s home in Terre Haute, Ind. We had fun meeting residents, decorating cookies, and sharing a few laughs. Recently, students from my high school kept that same project going and that makes me feel good.

My high school club advisors noticed how leading service projects lit me up, so they nudged me to apply for leadership positions and I took on a role where I helped other clubs nearby. That led to me take on our club’s highest state-level student position – district governor – and I met more people and grew my network and my skills.

Then, during the summer before my senior year of high school, I became an international trustee and completed my transformation from a lonely, shy teenager, to a strong, happy, and service-oriented leader with supportive friends in countries around the world. All that just from joining a very special club at my high school.

Today, I look back with gratitude for the community that welcomed me, and I thank the leaders at my school for having Key Club as an option for students to consider. If you are a teacher, principal, or superintendent reading my story, please do not underestimate the power of clubs, sports teams, music, theatre and more to help your students find connection and belonging.

High schoolers are facing so many challenges right now and they need more open doors inviting them in to connect with their classmates and their communities.