When Santa Claus visited the Delaware YMCA in December, he had helpers -- and they weren't elves.
A group of Delaware teens pitched in to help run the annual Breakfast with Santa event. They helped to set up, cook breakfast and lead children to visit Santa.
It was one of many community events served by the YMCA's new Teen Leaders Club since it was launched in October. The group helps local teens volunteer, make new friends and build personal skills.
"These guys deserve respect and they need a place to be heard and a place where they can make a difference," said Roger Hanafin, youth, teen and family program director at the Y. "Teen Leaders Club gives them a safe place to experiment with being in charge and trying new things -- plus it's a lot of fun."
The club meets at 6 p.m. every Thursday at the Delaware Community Center YMCA, 1121 S. Houk Road.
It's free to join and open to all youth ages 11-17. Hanafin said most of the current members range from ages 11-14.
In addition to weekly meetings, members engage in community service, such as volunteering at the Y during the monthly Family Night events. They're also organizing the YMCA's Rock Wall Challenge this month, and in February they'll volunteer at Delaware Parks and Recreation's father-daughter dance.
Members also participate in social activities such as an overnight lock-in at the YMCA, during which they swam in the pool, played games and watched movies.
Logan Keeder, 13, said the club is really about learning to take on new responsibilities.
"We do have fun, but usually there is a serious point to what we're doing," Keeder said. "When we're volunteering and seeing how we can make a difference, we get to see that this is what it's really about."
The weekly meetings include games and activities, but members also open up and have serious conversations. Earlier this month, the teens shared their thoughts and experiences related to bullying at school.
Members also build new skills in the club. Recently, they've been working on skills related to finding a job and building a career. They learned how to apply for a job and practiced interview skills.
Feb. 15-17, they'll visit Camp Wilson in Bellefontaine to meet up with 150 other Teen Leaders clubs from YMCAs across the state.
At the camp, they'll play team-building games and participate in activities such as archery and horseback riding.
When they get back, they'll elect two members to serve as the group's first president and vice president.
Zach Miller, 12, said Teen Leaders Club inspired him to get off the couch.
"It's been a great experience," he said. "I think it kind of changed me and gave me something to do instead of just sitting around all the time -- and I met a lot of new people here, too."
Teddy Cochran, 12, said, "I enjoy it a lot. It gets my mind off of school and any other problems."
Youth interested in joining can inquire at the YMCA front desk or attend a weekly meeting.
While the group is free to join, there are fees for certain activities such as the Camp Wilson trip. But Hanafin said the YMCA will work with families individually to ensure their child can afford to participate in all events.