Community service and teen activism are not just high school requirements for some teens. For those like 16-year-old Madelyn Dickens, community involvement is clearly based on her passion for social change, a yearning to help others and a desire to use her voice to make the world a better place.
A junior at The Community School, a project-based learning high school in the Spokane School District, Dickens used her voice to do just that in mid-January when she joined hundreds of other teens for Teen Lobby Day in Olympia. The annual event, promoted by Planned Parenthood, includes members of its Teen Council from around the state.
“It was super empowering,” said Dickens, who has been a member of the local Planned Parenthood Teen Council since last year. “It was mind-blowing to be able to talk to legislators and to feel like we were making a difference in the world.”
Spokane Teen Council members met with Rep. Timm Ormsby, the most senior Spokane-area Democrat in the Legislature, and Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane.
Paul Dillon, Planned Parenthood public affairs director, said Spokane teens attended training about the inner workings of government before their meetings with legislators, when they talked about specific bills including the Reproductive Parity Act, gender pay equity and voter access.
“Dickens was part of the group of very inspiring youth leaders,” Dillon said. “She exemplifies why youth advocating for policies that impact them makes the world a better place. Her involvement in Teen Council is helping to provide people with support and resources they need to carve out bright futures for themselves. Dickens is one of the leaders of her generation in the movement for equality.”
As a Teen Council member, Dickens said she provides condoms and other safe-sex materials as well as sex-education materials to students and peers. She manages a teen resource locker at her high school, because part of her role in Teen Council is to connect with other students and talk about safe sex and prevention of unplanned pregnancies.
Not only is Dickens a promising youth leader, according to her teachers and mentors, this year she is taking advanced placement college classes. Next year, when she graduates from The Community School she will have earned an associate degree from Spokane Community College along with her high school diploma. In fact, she will have “way more credits than I need to graduate,” Dickens said.
Rhonda Dundon, a local massage therapist and Dickens’ mother, said she is more than proud of her daughter and supports her activism.
“I really am so proud of her, I don’t know if she even knows how proud I am,” Dundon said. “She is helping this broader community, helping others, and taking individual ownership of it. And she holds herself accountable.”
Dundon said her daughter’s activism has changed communication and dynamics within the family, resulting in closer relationships.
“I think we talk more. We have these conversations about activism and right and wrong. I grew up so differently in a supersmall town – superconservative. I didn’t even meet anyone who was gay or transgender,” she said. “It doesn’t really matter what the prejudice is about … if we’re white and straight and think we’re better, that’s (wrong).”
Dickens, who her mother said was a painfully shy child in elementary school, developed social anxiety and suffered from depression about the time she transitioned into middle school.
Studies have shown that the jump from elementary to middle school can be a painful transition for many adolescents, whose worries grow to include greater academic responsibility, burgeoning sexuality and complex social structures.
Dickens said the depression made her want to stay in bed all day and do nothing. “I had no energy and was isolating from everyone,” she said. “I’m superopen with my mom, and she helped me to see a counselor.”
Dundon said Dickens’ role as a public speaker in Teen Council has helped her confidence and her communication skills.
Teen Council members team up to speak to community organizations and other schools in the area.
“We spent time at Rogers High School and presented at Lutheran Community Services, as well as a Spokane Community College class on gender for a sociology class,” Dickens said. “There are lots of terms used in gender identity that we address. We also talk about how to respectfully ask people what pronouns they prefer and other gender identity issues.”
Dickens said although most of her time is taken up by school, extracurricular activities and working out, music is a creative outlet for her.
“I learned how to read music and play the piano from my grandfather, and we have a computer software recording studio at home where I record songs,” she said. She also writes songs when she has time.
What does the future hold for Dickens? She said she probably will transfer to a four-year college when she gets her degree from Spokane Community College. She said she is thinking about majoring in French.
“I do have a passion for advocacy, though,” she said. “I will continue to help people have safe sex. I’ll probably always advocate for safer sex.”
It’s evident that whatever path Dickens chooses, she will work hard to create a compassionate and fulfilling life.
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