BLOOMINGTON — A bunch of Bloomington-Normal youths had fun Friday with teens from Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma in town to attend a teen leadership conference.

Running carnival games and activities for local children was a service project of the Jack & Jill of America 59th annual Central Region Teen Leadership Conference, which started Thursday and runs through Sunday at the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Normal.

Jack & Jill of America is dedicated to strengthening families and providing the tools and resources necessary for successful child development, said Delilah Johnson, chairwoman of the organization’s philanthropic foundation. Johnson was among 145 people attending the four-day conference.

The visiting teens packed backpacks and led games at Western Avenue Community Center’s summer camp. They also helped run a carnival for about 100 children age 6 to 13 in Bloomington-Normal Area Project on Friday at Holy Trinity Junior High School.

“They are very positive and full of energy. My kids can’t help but be positive and full of energy when they are around. It makes me very happy,” said Danielle Truitt, onsite director at the Western Avenue camp for eighth- and ninth-graders.

“Service doesn’t have to be big, it can be doing little things like playing games with kids,” said Elise Phillips, 17, of Tulsa, Okla.

The Bloomington-Normal Chapter of Jack & Jill of America, which has about 35 mothers and their children, hosted the first regional conference in Bloomington-Normal.

The organization is for African-American mothers and their children ages 2 to 19 years, but there is a fathers’ auxiliary as well.

“The whole family is involved,” said Regional Director Natalie Brunson-Wheeler of Bloomington.

This conference, however, is focused on teens. It will culminate with a rites of passage ceremony tonight to celebrate graduating high school students as they move onto college, said Tamela Franks of St. Louis, a regional member.

Other conference events include a talent show, a teen party, a dance, sports challenges, skits and a banquet.

“We meet people who have the same goals,” said Avery Jackson, 17, of Des Moines, Iowa. Jackson arrived in the Twin Cities a day early to help arrange the conference.

Central Region President Clarence Allen, 17, of Colorado said this group helps defy negative stereotypes about African-Americans.

“Here you see intelligent African-Americans working together collectively. That’s what I really love. We get together on common ground,” said Allen, whose career aspirations include being a professor.

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