by Sunny Layne
CEDAR VALLEY (KWWL) -- Sometimes when teens make headlines, it's because of crime or violence, but a few dozen eastern Iowa teens say negative stories are the exception, not the rule.
They live by six pillars of character, and spread their message to as many young people as they can.
Meet the Young Leaders of Character, all people you should know.
At first glance, this scene looks like teens playing a light-hearted game.
But under the festive atmosphere, these teens say they plan to carry the weight of the world's problems.
"This generation is very important," Waterloo East High senior Gabbi Frerichs said. "This generation is the one the most problems of society are going to fall."
Meeting at Wartburg College in Waverly, this is a program called Young Leaders of Character, based on the Institute for Character Development, which teaches the six pillars of character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.
"Our youth today gets really underestimated a lot," Cedar Falls senior Katy Kloos said. "I think it's important to show people like that youth can make changes, make huge changes."
Selected youth participate in the program, which helps the teens develop their own character as well as teaches them how to present the six pillars of character to other teens and children.
"Every time you go to school and teach the pillars, you just see it click in their heads and say, 'I know citizenship. And I'm going to go and do that in my community,'" Frerichs said.
"This program puts into perspective how powerful young people can be and their leadership skills and their role in society," leader Kristin Teig Torres said, "and they can do great things if we just give them a chance to do so."
Torres and these young leaders say Character Counts has long-lasting positive effects, especially in light of violence recently in eastern Iowa.
"This past school year with gang violence, you'd see less of that because people would be more respectful and you'd have a better community sense," Waterloo East High junior Adam Babinat said.
These young leaders hope to get more students involved today, so they are all better equipped to handle the challenges of tomorrow.
Former Governor Robert D. Ray founded the Institute for Character Development, a non-profit organization, in 1997
Reporter: Sunny Layne