“For many people, it is the first time they are loved for who they truly are.”
Nestled away in a small town outside of Philadelphia, a growing community of students and adults seek to make a difference in each others’ lives. The teen leadership program known as Leaders Involved in Networking Kids, also referred to as L.I.N.K., was founded by high school guidance counselor Terry Muzzy.
This secret weekend retreat encourages students to be a part of a positive peer network within the school community. Beloved by the community and his students, Muzzy started a legacy “to bring together different social groups within the high school community in order to lay a common foundation for harmony and acceptance between all students.”
After Muzzy passed in 2006, others began to spread his message of kindness and acceptance, taking his unique program to many high schools and some universities across Pennsylvania.
Megan Reiff, a L.I.N.K. student leader and senior at Twin Valley High School in Elverson, PA, dove into the true meaning of this conference.
“Generally, high school is a time when teenagers are very insecure, and that can result in them making fun of their peers or just being really mean,” she said.
Megan reminisced of a time before her high school was a community.
“When I was a freshman, L.I.N.K. hadn’t been started yet and the school just felt like no one was connected to each other,” she said. “There was always this looming feeling that someone was talking behind your back or judging you.”
At that point in time, teachers and students knew they needed to fix the atmosphere at Twin Valley.
After much preparation and anticipation, Twin Valley students and teachers nervously loaded a bus on the way to an experience that would change each of their lives forever.
When they arrived at the L.I.N.K. camp, students had no idea what the weekend had in store. Each student was instructed to bring a packing list that included items like flashlights and sneakers, but were not given any insight to the weekend’s activities. Although teachers and student leaders were aware of the fun ahead, participants can never be truly prepared for what happens emotionally on these trips.
“Many people may not believe in magic, but then again, not many people have been on a L.I.N.K. trip,” Megan said. “I think when a person is surrounded by so much unconditional love and can truly be accepted by the people in their community, something magically starts to happen. You start to love yourself.”
After each trip, Megan can feel a change in the school setting. No one dreads waking up and going to class. No one sits by themselves at lunch. No one is alone. Students take initiative, seeking out ways to include everyone, no matter if that person is from a different friend group or even if that person is a teacher.
“For many people it is the first time they are loved for who they truly are,” Megan said.“This experience allowed me to grow more confident in myself and my decisions, and showed me that it is okay to be everything that I am.”
The tremendous impact this organization has had on the community and school grows stronger with each and every day. Through the butterfly effect, each student will take their journey to self love and kindness with them to new experiences after high school. Each student will bring love with them to college campuses, businesses, and homes across the world. Each student will eventually raise their children with more understanding and kindness. L.I.N.K. is changing the world one act of kindness at a time, for generations to come.
Photo: (From left to right) Megan Reiff, Maxwell Hafer, Brandon Hertzler at the L.I.N.K campground after a day of reconnecting with fellow students and teachers.