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Young adults encouraged to 'be the change'

Nicole Ektnitphong (second row, far right), creator of the “Be the Change: Leadership on Purpose” program, poses with high school students involved in the program during a morning of gardening at the Shalom Hill Farm. (Submitted photo)

WORTHINGTON — The “Be the Change: Leadership on Purpose” program at the Nobles County Integration Collaborative (NCIC) started back in December 2012 as a program that taught young adults how to lead from within.

“It’s called ‘Leadership on Purpose’ because it’s not just about leadership, but being intentional about what you do, how you do it and why,” explained Nicole Ektnitphong, a senior at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, a graduate of Worthington High School and the program’s creator.

Ektnitphong, a political science major, explained how the program has changed in just a short year and a half.

“The program changed as I changed,” she said. “When I studied abroad in India, I incorporated things I learned there such as social justice and peace, and I continued to develop the program from there.”

Ektnitphong, who began “Be the Change” as a sophomore in college, said her experiences shifted the focus of the program, but that one message remains clear — young people have a role in social change and change in the community.

“Young people can be advocates, mobilizers, agents of change ... and no matter what can have an active and engaging role with their community,” she said.

The program, which is geared toward high school students and recent high school graduates, was originally focused on a series of questions.

“The questions would start with self and move into community, and then the final set of questions was how do you understand yourself in relation to the community and finding ways to serve the community by being an advocate and creating change,” Ektnitphong described. “It (the program) shifted in the sense that I just added more to it.” 

Ektnitphong explained the month-long program begins the first week with big questions such as “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” It then transitions to “What am I meant to be and do?” and later focuses on questions about how young people understand not only the local community, but the global community.

The program meets from anywhere between two to four times a week during the month. It begins with an overnight visit to Shalom Hill Farm that anyone interested in the program can attend, with the goal of giving students a chance to learn about the program and walk through the schedule of events. 

The group not only meets for group sessions during the program, but also takes field trips.

“We just finished a field visit in St. Peter, but we try to go to other communities in Minnesota to learn from them,” Ektnitphong said. “I want to eventually expand it to communities throughout the Midwest.” 

Ektnitphong has seven high school students participating this month, and hopes to have 15 in July.

To fund the program, Ektnitphong received a grant from the NCIC for $1,800 that goes toward supplies, meals and funding the field visits. 

“I also work at the NCIC as an enrichment facilitator, so everyone at the NCIC has been very supportive of my program,” Ektnitphong said. 

Ektnitphong explained that while she is still a student herself, she still learns new things from each group of students.

“I’m really impressed with the students, and they continue to surprise me,” she said. “I’ve really come to realize that if we begin investing in our young people — not just in school, but in other aspects of community life — they are really valued members in the community and can create change.” 

For more information or to sign up, visit

Daily Globe Reporter Erin Trester may be reached at 376-7322.

Erin Trester
Erin Trester is the crime and city reporter for the Daily Globe. She's a native of Lewiston, MN, but moved to Buffalo, NY to attend college and obtained her bachelor's degree in Communications. She started at the Western New York Catholic Newspaper as a reporter in Buffalo, but in October 2013 she returned to her home state to start with the Daily Globe. Most of her spare time is taken up by her 13-year-old thoroughbred named Faith, but some of her other hobbies include reading, fishing and spending time with friends and family. 
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