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River Falls High School's girl’s Hershey’s experience a sweet deal

Seventeen-year-old River Falls High School senior Karlie Place spent the last year in a youth leadership program through Hershey's and Key Club. Through it she and seven other students developed an event called Family Play Day. Place is the daughter of Brian and Lroi Place. (Submitted photos)1 / 2
"The great eight" Key Club students who were selected to take part in the pilot for The Hershey Company Youth Leadership Program (partnered with Key Club) are pictured in Hershey, Penn. From left are: Sydney Hoffman, Texas; Libby Hinzey, Kanzas; Sherry Reeder, Oregon; Michaela Stanton, New Hampshire; Erin Morgan, Maine; Bianca Campbell, Virgina; and Karlie Place, River Falls.2 / 2

It was a Sunday evening in late October when 17-year-old River Falls High School senior, then a junior, Karlie Place got a phone call that would change her life and shape the course of the next year for her.

The call was from someone named Leanna Meiser who said she worked for Hersheys.

“As soon as she said Hershey, I knew,” Place said.

Place had applied to The Hershey Company Youth Leadership Program in October. She was one of eight Key Club students in North America chosen for the program -- offered only to North American Key Club members who had attended Key Leader -- an annual weekend-long leadership program offered by Key Club -- and were in 11th grade.

“I was so excited!” Place said with a grin. “I was blown away that they considered me. It was really cool.”

The Hershey Company Youth Leadership Program was a pilot program for Hershey and Key Club. Place and her fellow members of the “great eight” selected students were the first to go through the program, each representing one of eight regions in North America.

Place represented region 1, which ran from Canada, through the Midwest to Mexico, encompassing Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan Iowa and Ontario.

Through monthly conference calls, the “great eight” developed an event they called Family Play Day to accompany Hershey’s Track and Field events. Family Play Day, Place said, is designed to get everyone active, not just the track and field athletes.

“Hershey wanted all people to be able to participate, whether they’re two-years old or 80 years old,” Place said. “Our side event ran along with the Hershey’s Track and Field meet and was able to get kids in the meet’s, little brothers and sisters to come out and grandparents to come out and be active.”

In April, a pilot “Family Play Day” event was held in each of the eight regions, one lead by each of the students. Place’s event was one of three “media events,” which were attended by well-known public figures, in Place’s case, two well-known mommy-bloggers, who acted as spokespeople for the event.

Because it was one of the “media events” Place’s Family Play Day pilot event was held in St. Louis, Mo.

Place, while attending classes at RFHS, as well as juggling gymnastics, track, her job at Yo-Joes and her homework, planned her Family Play Day from River Falls through what she calls “long-distance planning.”

She arranged the event, organized volunteers and organized donations through phone calls and emails with the St. Louis Key Club and other volunteers.

Hershey’s flew Place to St. Louis, and paid for her hotel room, etc., and Place held Family Play Day at a Hershey’s Track and Field event in St. Louis. Place’s event was held right in the middle of the field with the track events going on all around.

Family Play Day included a water balloon toss, a run jump through a hula hoop, a relay, three legged races and other “mini-games.”

In July, Place finally met the rest of the “great eight” in person at Key Club’s international convention, known as ICON, in Washington D.C. At ICON, Place and the other seven students presented their event to around 1,500 Key Club members.

“I’d never really talked in front of that many people before,” Place said, “so it was really cool.”

The program finished off with “the great eight” spending July 21 to Aug. 4 in Hershey, Penn., seeing some tourist attractions and giving a presentation on Family Play Day to Hershey executives. The group also helped out with the Hershey Track and Field North American Final event.

Place said Hersheys plans to start running Family Play Days with its Track and Field events within the next couple of years.

“I’m really excited to see it go national,” Place said.

Place said her year as one of “the great eight” has taught her much about life, business, professionalism, public speaking and given her more independence.

“I’m really grateful for all of this,” Place said. “I just know I wouldn’t be the same person in the long run without it. I've just learned so much and I’ve been so inspired. I know I’ll be able to do so many more great things with this experience under my belt.

One way the experience changed her was giving her a new vision for her future.

Place said she gained this during her trip to Hershey, when the “great eight” toured the Milton Hershey School -- a free boarding school for underprivileged children started by Hershey Company founder Milton Hershey. Place said she was inspired by Milton Hershey’s efforts to help others.

“Everything I see or do, I can always see someplace where you can help,” Place said. “There’s always an opportunity to do something to better someone.”

Her new goal in life is to someday own a successful business and use its profits to help others, as Milton Hershey did.

“It’s one thing being successful for yourself,” Place said, “but being successful and being about the people is really how to win.”

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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