Barry McNamara  |   Published June 29, 2023

Community and Conversations

The Rev. John Huxtable, Monmouth’s chaplain, credits ‘amazing’ kids and mentors for successful LUX Summer Institute for Youth Leadership.

LUX MENTORS: The students who assisted the Rev. John Huxtable (far right) were, from left, Lina J... LUX MENTORS: The students who assisted the Rev. John Huxtable (far right) were, from left, Lina Jursa, Emma Romano, Anna Brunner, Alyssa McDaniel and Kelsey Holtgrave.MONMOUTH, Ill. – The students and mentors who attended Monmouth College’s LUX Summer Institute for Youth Leadership June 26-28 walked some literal paths, and they also walked the broader path of building community.

“We learned this week that we are called to be in community together,” Monmouth Chaplain the Rev. John Huxtable told the group at the closing ceremony. “As we walked the path this week, one of the lessons we learned is that we don’t just love our friends, the people who think like us. We love our enemies, too.”

“You’ve made such a big impact on me this week,” high school student Elizabeth Fite of St. Joseph, Missouri, told Huxtable shortly following the ceremony, where the chaplain had reminded the gathering that “the communion table breaks down the walls.”

The bread broken there was baked by one of the five student mentors, Lina Jursa ’24, who followed up on that theme.

Another mentor, Alyssa McDaniel’ 25, praised Huxtable’s leadership.

“He is so passionate about the youth and our transformation to be with God and learn not only with but from each other,” she said. “He exemplifies the patience and grace it takes to build a community.”


‘It completely changed my life’

Other high school students who attended were Stella Yonekawa-Blest of Houston, Texas, and Samuel Spicer of Carlinville, Illinois. The other mentors were Anna Brunner ’24, Kelsey Holtgrave ’24 and Emma Romano ’25.

“I attended two years ago, and it completely changed my life,” said Yonekawa-Blest. “It’s beautiful what you do with this program. I really wanted to come back this year, and hopefully next year I can come back again and help out.”

“I attended two years ago, and it completely changed my life. It’s beautiful what you do with this program. I really wanted to come back this year, and hopefully next year I can come back again and help out.” Stella Yonekawa-Blest


Fite also attended two years ago, when she and Yonekawa-Blest formed a lasting friendship. Yonekawa-Blest flew up from Houston to visit Fite, and the two made the five-hour drive from Missouri to Monmouth together.

CONTEMPLATIVE PATH: High school students Elizabeth Fite (left) and Stella Yonekawa-Blest make the... CONTEMPLATIVE PATH: High school students Elizabeth Fite (left) and Stella Yonekawa-Blest make their way through the College's Dahl Labyrinth.Spicer said he heard about the institute through a mutual friend of his and Huxtable’s.

“There were a lot of thought-provoking conversations, and it was interesting to hear how people’s different backgrounds affect their perspectives,” he said. “Incorporating those different perspectives can help build a brighter future for bringing people together.”


Deep conversations

Huxtable said having those types of conversations isn’t always easy, but he was proud of his group’s approach.

“It’s not me. It’s these guys and the work they put in,” he said. “It was very intentional work, and they put the effort in.”

That included discussions led by Regina Johnson, director of the College’s Champion Miller Center for Student Equity, Inclusion and Community.

“The kids and the mentors, they were just amazing. Every minute of this was exciting. Just the energy and the excitement and to get to engage with them. They asked a lot of questions that they never asked before.” Rev. John Huxtable

“Regina pushed them on important concepts and about understanding and seeing everybody,” said Huxtable. “The kids and the mentors, they were just amazing. Every minute of this was exciting. Just the energy and the excitement and to get to engage with them. They asked a lot of questions that they never asked before.”

“We had a lot of discussions about ourselves and how we could connect with other people, and we dug into larger concepts than we do in our daily lives,” said Fite.

Jursa and McDaniel agreed.

“My favorite part of LUX was engaging in deep conversations with everyone and hearing their unique stories,” she said. “Very rarely do we get the opportunity to listen to everyone’s personal stories, but LUX was able to create a safe environment to do just that.”

“The highlight of my time at LUX this year was the open conversations we had during training,” said McDaniel. “As John will tell you, he doesn’t do small talk. We delved into the book Tattoos on the Heart by connecting the stories Father Boyle tells us to stories of our own and how we can learn to shape our experiences into inclusivity and building community.”

“My favorite part of LUX was engaging in deep conversations with everyone and hearing their unique stories. Very rarely do we get the opportunity to listen to everyone’s personal stories, but LUX was able to create a safe environment to do just that.” Lina Jursa

Huxtable told the students, “We built community, we had engaging dialogue, we got exhausted.”

The latter was a reference to a visit to the Horn Field Campus, one mile south of Macomb, where the group participated in team-building activities. A unit of Western Illinois University’s College of Education and Human Services, the 92-acre field campus includes woodlands, prairie and several miles of nature trails.

It made for a long day for Yonekawa-Blest and Fite, who had departed St. Joseph at 4 a.m.

The high school students had a much shorter walk when they traced a contemplative path along the College’s Dahl Labyrinth, located just behind Wallace and Poling halls.

Over the past few years, the pandemic and personnel changes halted the LUX Institute’s momentum, but Huxtable was pleased to have it back up and running, with definite plans to continue.

“You guys are my guinea pigs,” he told the students. “I couldn’t have picked a better group to do this with.”


Over the past few years, the pandemic and personnel changes halted the LUX Institute’s momentum, but Huxtable was pleased to have it back up and running, with definite plans to continue.

“You guys are my guinea pigs,” he told the students. “I couldn’t have picked a better group to do this with.”

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