New YoJack director set to take over program


YoJack will celebrate its 20th year with a new director.

During the first class meeting today, Karen Haas will lead the way.

She was one of the final two candidates for the position in 2018, but the Leadership Jackson County board of directors chose Adam Disque to lead the youth leadership program.

In the summer of 2019, he resigned when he decided to go back into teaching. The board had Rachel Nay take over as interim director for the fall session, and Haas later was offered the director’s job and accepted it.

Haas assisted with four of the five monthly class meetings to get a feel for the job. Nay is going to remain involved as a volunteer.

“Actually, it was good for me that it didn’t work out for the first time just because I had so many other things going on,” Haas said. “When they came back to me the second time, I was like, ‘Yeah, I will do this.’”

She said it took a week for her to make the decision.

“But I didn’t really need to. I just wanted to make sure that I could devote the right amount of time to this and my other job and my kids and everything,” said Haas, whose full-time job is working from home as a division safety coordinator for Sonoco. “The organization side of it I can get done in off hours or whatever. It’s just really one day a month that I have to devote solely to YoJack. I think it’s going to work out fine.”

Haas said it’s a plus having Nay help along with Leadership Jackson County Director Terrye Davidson and volunteers Georgiann Coons and Emily Engelking.

“It’s going to be an amazing help. It’s not like one person. It’s a group effort, and I think that’s what’s amazing,” Haas said.

“My job is to make sure everything is organized, everything is in its place, and then when I get there the day of … you don’t really have to do that much,” she said. “You just kind of facilitate, and the people you have coming in to speak to the kids, you make sure all of that happens on time.”

YoJack started in 2000, 18 years after the adult leadership program was established in the county.

There are five meetings per session, conducted once a month at different locations around the county. The first four focus on small- and large-group activities to enhance team-building, leadership, diversity and communication skills. The students also learn how to use their time, talents and treasures to give back to the community and help others.

During the fifth meeting, each student makes a presentation in front of their peers sharing how the YoJack experience helped them.

In 2017, the program for seventh- and eighth-graders at all public and private schools in the county was expanded to two sessions per year.

Two members of the Community Foundation of Jackson County’s board of directors saw value in YoJack and liked the concept of teaching kids about philanthropy. They were interested in expanding the program so the message could reach more students in the county.

The result was seed money for a second session of YoJack in 2017 and 2018. The Leadership Jackson County board of directors has continued to secure funding to ensure it continues to thrive with two sessions per year.

Since the expansion, there have been 50 kids per session — 38 participants and 12 youth advisers, which are students who have participated in the program in the previous session.

Disque and Nay were in the 2017-18 Leadership Jackson County class. When he was named director of YoJack in the summer of 2018, Nay told him she would volunteer to help.

“I work with youth and children, and so I enjoy that, and this was just another way to give back to the community,” said Nay, whose full-time job is working with youth at First United Methodist Church in Seymour.

“I see them at the church, and so seeing them in a different role in the community was good,” she said. “All of them want to be leaders, so they want to give back, so it’s not like twisting their arm to be there. They want to be there, they enjoy what they are doing and they want to learn and give back.”

Taking over as interim director in 2019 involved more work, she said.

“I had to channel my inner Terrye Davidson and get organized and be on top of things,” Nay said, smiling. “My role was so much more than just showing up. I had to have everything in line. I had to make sure papers were printed off and just be a whole lot more organized than what I had to be before. It was just very different.”

But it was work she enjoyed.

“I think one of the neatest things is to see where they start out in the beginning with a superficial view of philanthropy,” Nay said. “There’s so much more to it than that. They learn that it’s their time, their talents and their treasures, so you don’t have to give $50 or $500 to make a difference. You can donate your time somewhere.”

She said that really clicks during the session at the Community Foundation when they hear from three local organizations and then make a recommendation to the foundation’s board in awarding a $1,000 grant.

“Even though they understand that has to be approved by the board, they are the ones deciding where that money goes, and they take that so seriously,” she said. “It’s such a big deal to them to make sure they choose the right organization they feel is going to make the biggest impact in the community.”

The more meetings Haas attended last fall, the more comfortable she became.

“I saw how they were learning and interacting and gaining confidence, and I thought, ‘Yep, this is the right place for me to be,’” she said. “I am really excited to be a part of it and to help shape these lives. I think it’s a little bit overwhelming at times because it’s a big responsibility, and I really want to do a good job.”

She looks forward to growing a bond with the students.

“When I was in middle school, I would have loved to have something like this that I could have been a part of because I feel like I really didn’t become aware of how to be a leader or how to give back to my community until I was in my 30s and 40s,” Haas said.

“Even if they don’t take anything away from this class right away, it plants a seed that 15 years later, 20 years later or whatever, they realize, ‘Oh yeah, I have this basis and I can give back or I can do this or I can lead that,’” she said. “I think that’s so cool to have those first tools planted at such an early age. Hopefully, they will look back and remember their time in this class as important to them.”

Haas also said she hopes to be a part of the 2020-21 Leadership Jackson County class.

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For information about Leadership Jackson County and YoJack, visit or or email [email protected].


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