Youth Empowerment Project

Empowering youth through a bully prevention project was the goal of Mitchell Hinnenkamp’s Phillips Scholarship Program this summer. A senior, Hinnenkamp worked in conjunction with the St. Cloud YMCA to provide his Youth Empowerment Project.

The scholarship program, funded by the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation and in partnership with Minnesota Private College Council, recognizes and rewards students who strive to make life better for those with unmet needs. Hinnenkamp was one of six Minnesota private college students selected for the $16,500 award.

Hinnenkamp, a St. Cloud native, met with more than 60 school-age children twice a week at an already-in-place YMCA summer camp in St. Cloud.

“The premise of my project was to address the issues with bullying, as well as its harmful effects on future relationships and their personal well-being. Ranging from cyber-bullying, to physical and emotional bullying, to self-confidence and peer support, the project was a well-rounded look at this crippling cultural issue,” Hinnenkamp said. “Together we talked about the issues, set up scenarios and methods of avoidance, played games, grew and become comfortable with one another.”

An encounter that he experienced on the first day set the tone for the project. Hinnenkamp stopped at a grocery store that morning to pick up supplies. The clerk at the counter was an elementary school classmate who was frequently bullied at school.

“This encounter helped me focus on the true message of my project, why I am here, and what I want to accomplish. I was excited to think that I could prevent, or at least diminish, the rate of bullying to some degree in our local school system – that I could help stop instances of severe bullying, like what happened to my elementary school classmate.”

Hinnenkamp says that he was not bullied at school but he believes that in a way he was a “bully because I witnessed bullying at my school but did nothing about it. I was a bystander. I was a tacit enabler. I think this is what made my perspective unique going into the project.”

At the end of the summer the group took a trip to Leighton Broadcasting in St. Cloud to record an anti-bullying public service announcement. The PSA will air in October – which is National Bullying Prevention Month.

Hinnenkamp conducted the Youth Empowerment Project from June 24 through the end of August.

“My one wish was that the participants would walk away from the project being more educated on bullying and its harmful effects,” he said. “I wanted to equip the participants with the confidence and support of their peers that are necessary when addressing bullying. I wanted the participants to be able to lead by example. I wanted them to make being a bully ‘uncool,’ while making a happy, self-confident person the cool kid at school.”

A business major, Hinnenkamp transferred from the University of Minnesota to St. Thomas for his sophomore year.

“I chose St. Thomas because of its incessant pursuit of academic and spiritual excellence. Coming from one of the largest schools in the nation to a small private university, I appreciate the small class sizes and genuine professors who wholeheartedly devote themselves to their students’ learning at St. Thomas,” he said. “I also really appreciate how St. Thomas incorporates philosophy and ethics into its required liberal arts education. St. Thomas has pushed me to grow spiritually, academically, and socially – a kind of growth that doesn’t have a price tag.”

The Minnesota Private College Council and its affiliate, the Minnesota Private College Fund, represent private nonprofit higher education in Minnesota. Since 1994, The Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation has annually awarded Phillips Scholarships to six students attending any of 16 eligible private colleges and universities in Minnesota. These awards encourage and enable the continuation of Jay and Rose Phillips’ commitment to helping people become self-sufficient. The Minnesota Private College Fund administers the scholarships.