Desert Town Hall is a renowned speaker series presented in Indian Wells. Even though tickets sell out early every year, area high school students have an opportunity to hear world leaders, media pundits, heroes, and literary giants through its student program known as Youth Town Hall.
Every January through April, students from DSUSD high schools, along with their peers from around the valley, are invited to attend. The featured speakers first meet with students before their presentation on the main stage. Students ask questions of the speaker, stay for a buffet dinner, and then participate in a discussion among their peers.
“Youth Town Hall has been part of our program since its inception,” said Becky Kurtz, executive director of the organization. “This enriching experience for students is made possible by sponsors, donors, subscribers, and generous grants from the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation, as well as the Coeta and Donald Barker Foundation.” There is no charge for students to attend.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for 150 students at each of the four programs. This year’s speakers: Trey Gowdy on January 20 (attorney, former congressman and former federal prosecutor); Bob Costas on February 23 (award-winning sportscaster); Jon Meacham on March 23 (Presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author); and Paul Nicklen on April 9 (National Geographic photographer, polar adventurer).
“We’re proud of Youth Town Hall,” Ms. Kurtz continued. “We’re especially proud that it is student-run.” She said that every year the program recruits 10 to 15 Youth Ambassadors through an application process. These exceptional students lead their peers. They provide parking directions, show students where to go and what to do — students even introduce the renowned speakers. “Imagine being a high school student,” Ms. Kurtz says, “and introducing someone famous like a former Congressman or a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. It’s a wonderful opportunity for our kids. One they will never forget.” The students who introduce speakers are coached on writing the introduction as well as presenting it. Students also take their turn at the microphone emceeing the event.
Serving as Youth Ambassadors this year from Desert Sands Unified School District are Aidan Clark (Palm Desert High School), Joyce Henein (La Quinta High School), Pedro Lezama-Garcia (Indio High School), and Mia Puga (Indio High School).
“Youth Ambassadors are reluctant to leave the program when their season is up,” Kurtz said. Many return as Ambassadors Emeritus to mentor the new leaders.
Belinda Castaneda, an attending Indio High School student, noted, “It was such an honor to be in the same room as Trey Gowdy. I feel that I have learned a great lesson from Gowdy. That everything is going to be alright. Growing up, all I have been told is to do this and do that in order to become successful. Gowdy really opened my eyes and expressed that I am going to be okay. He expressed how having money and fame does not make everyone happy. His wife is a first grade teacher who is very happy. I also enjoyed hearing the discussion after and all of the students’ different points of views. I am so very grateful for this opportunity to attend this Youth Town Hall Event.”
Should there be an open seat at the dinner that follows the event, adult guests look forward to hosting a student at their dinner table. They enjoy hearing from students about their lives. “It gives us great confidence,” Kurtz said, “to see and hear from these capable and confident young people.”
The speakers often report that Youth Town Hall is their favorite part of the evening. “They’re challenged by the questions students ask. This year speakers are prepared to offer advice, advice that they wish they’d been given at the same age,” Kurtz said. She was impressed with Trey Gowdy’s wisdom for teens.
Students may contact their principal for more information on how to attend one of these enriching and exciting Youth Town Hall evenings.
Thanks to Desert Town Hall Series Executive Director Becky Kurtz and her team for their support as a DSUSD sponsor
Lead photo caption: Indio Ambassadors Mia Puga and Pedro Ledzama-Garcia
- Dr. Quinton Egson: DSUSD
- Mia Puga: DSDUSD
- Ambassadors: DSUSD