LSJ News

Pro Deo’s new director is dedicated to helping teens rewrite their stories

In 2017, Pro Deo teens Jovaan Johnson (left), Taevon Gates, Brian Alheiser, along with adult volunteer, Bria Zyniewicz (far right), took an August float trip on the Elk River
In 2017, Pro Deo teens Jovaan Johnson (left), Taevon Gates, Brian Alheiser, along with adult volunteer, Bria Zyniewicz (far right), took an August float trip on the Elk River Submitted photos

With the recent appointment of Elaine Metcalf as executive director, the Pro Deo Youth Center has opened a fresh chapter in its mission to serve Lee’s Summit’s teens.

Focused on empowering area youth to achieve their dreams in a safe, inclusive environment, Pro Deo is moving into this new phase after a year of difficult organizational challenges. As its leader, Metcalf will bring extensive education and leadership experience to the position, as she guides the group in forging innovative opportunities to serve area teens.

In taking on the executive director role, Metcalf is also building a new career and future for herself.

In June, the educator, with over 35 years of experience, retired. But the retirement was short-lived.

“I like to keep busy and serve the community, and I was looking for my next chapter,” Metcalf said. “Some people approached me about the role at Pro Deo. I applied for the position July 1 and was named in mid-July.”

As executive director, Metcalf will oversee and expand the organization’s education and life skills programs to support teens facing today’s often daunting challenges.

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Elaine Metcalf is the new executive director of the Pro Deo Youth Center. Submitted photo

Along with her professional experience, Metcalf brings a personal story to her new role. She understands firsthand the difficult challenges teens face and what they might need to excel beyond them.

“I grew up in a single-parent family, the youngest of seven kids,” Metcalf said. “Everything about my teenage years was a struggle. It was painful and traumatic.”

In high school, Metcalf decided she wanted to rewrite her story.

“I saw other kids making plans to go to college, so I went to a counselor and asked if he thought I might be able to go to college,” she recalled. “As a 15-year-old, this took a lot of bravery on my part, but he helped me.

“I was the first to go to college in my family, and it was solely because of that counselor. If there hadn’t been an advocate to help me change my story, my life would have been very different.

“Pro Deo speaks to my heart because of the background I come from. We help kids change their stories, like I changed mine. We meet each student where they are, with the goal to help empower them.”

Kimberly Cornett is one of the young people Pro Deo has helped rewrite her story.

Last May, Cornett was the first member of her extended family, including nine siblings, to graduate from high school. A Lee’s Summit North alumni, Cornett is also the first person in her family to attend college. With the goal of becoming a secondary history teacher, Cornett began studies at the University of Central Missouri this week.

Four years ago, Cornett was introduced to Pro Deo.

“I moved to Lee’s Summit my freshman year. I needed more connections and a friend brought me to Pro Deo,” she said. “Everyone was really nice, and I kept going because I had a great support system there. I didn’t have the best life at home. It’s super hard being in high school and not having a good relationship with your parents.

“I got the support at Pro Deo I never got from my own mom. The people there believed in me, and they said I could do it.”

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Pro Deo teens Kim Cornett and Mia Traman created a poster for the organization’s 2017 Glory Bound Tattoo fundraiser event, which was held at Glory Bound Tattoo in Lee’s Summit. Submitted photo

As an educator, Metcalf recognizes the critical issues young people like Cornett face in our current culture. She is focused on working with Pro Deo staff and volunteers to further raise awareness about these issues and expand the group’s existing culture of caring to help teens work through and move beyond their difficulties.

“This youth center can help fill the needs of today’s teens,” Metcalf said. “As an educator, I learned you can’t connect with young people until they know you care. We get to know kids personally and provide positive examples. This is how they’ll learn to trust adults.”

As executive director, Metcalf is also focused on Pro Deo’s financial needs and developing its charitable giving programs. In the past year, the organization had to cut back on after-school and other programming as a result of limited resources.

“The management continues to have great financial need and support, and we’re looking for new partners,” Metcalf said. “We need to rebuild our donor and volunteer resources, and we need to add programming again every day after school.”

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In the fall of 2017, adult volunteer, Josh Ward led a “Coffee and Conversation” small group discussion with teens at Pro Deo Youth Center. The discussions encourage teens to talk about issues that are important to them while sharing a beverage with friends. Submitted photo

Pro Deo board president Hope Davis is confident Metcalf can build Pro Deo’s new future, as the organization helps teens build theirs.

“Elaine’s organizational leadership, education background and experience working collaboratively with the community make her well positioned to lead us into the future,” Davis said. “We’re looking forward to Elaine’s leadership in engaging our stakeholders and enhancing the sustainability of the organization.”