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Tracy Hale is the chief executive officer of Youth Volunteer Corps, a Kansas City-based organization
that supports nearly 40 affiliates to provide service learning opportunities for youth. (Photo by Brad Austin)

Tracy Hale is the chief executive officer of Youth Volunteer Corps, a Kansas City-based organization that supports nearly 40 affiliates to provide service learning opportunities for youth. (Photo by Brad Austin)

July 16, 2021

IN SERVICE: Hale leads youth in developing appreciation for helping others

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all businesses, schools and organizations, and like all aspects of life, Youth Volunteer Corps – the organization Tracy Thomson Hale ’92 oversees as chief executive officer – had to adjust, too.

“What we realized is we can’t stop serving,” Hale said, “because not only do the people that we’re serving still need to be served, but our youth – we’re robbing them of something. They need that sense of belonging and purpose and that emotional lift they get from volunteering more than anything.”

Founded in 1987 in Kansas City, Missouri, Youth Volunteer Corps has a network of nearly 40 affiliates throughout the United States and Canada that are dedicated to creating meaningful service learning opportunities for youth. Hale joined the organization in 2011 and oversees its operations, including growth strategy, training, affiliate support and fundraising.

It brings together youth of all ages and from all backgrounds – from youth who are ordered by courts to participate in service projects to teens who are fulfilling service requirements for college admission. In another example, Hale described a boy who volunteers at a food bank while his single mother visits the location to pick up food for their family.

“It’s really helping our youth understand who they’re serving, what kinds of challenges those people that they’re serving are facing, and how to solve the community problems that are there,” Hale said.

They participate in an assortment of service projects and activities that emanate from the youth themselves – such as painting murals with local artists to cover graffiti, reading to children, helping older adults learn how to use technology and removing invasive species from parks. Trash Olympics incentivize trash pickup projects with contests to find the grossest, largest or most unusual items.

One of Hale’s favorites is “canstruction,” an activity that involves the collection of canned and boxed goods. Participants work with an engineer and develop STEM skills to build elaborate sculptures with the items they collect. The creations are displayed in malls and other public spaces as their collection continues, and items are donated at the conclusion of the project.

During the pandemic, groups met by Zoom to share ideas for creating homemade items such as dog treats or dog toys with old T-shirts, or constructing bird houses. Then, program directors picked up the items at participants’ front doors and delivered them.

“The sky’s the limit,” Hale said. “It’s really whatever they want to do. And even during COVID they didn’t let that stop them.”

Hale’s work with Youth Volunteer Corps fulfills an appetite for leadership and service she developed since earning her bachelor’s degree in international business.

She grew up in Maryville, the daughter of former Missouri state representative Mike Thomson ’68 ’71, and Dr. Nancy Thomson ’71, ’80, a Northwest faculty member who taught management information systems from 1981 to 2001. She also met her husband at Northwest; Kendell Hale ’90, recently completed his 13th season as head coach of the University of Missouri-Kansas City men’s and women’s tennis programs.

Hale says she initially was hesitant to choose Northwest for her college education but decided its business program provided her the best opportunity for her career interests.

“I attended almost as many Northwest things before I was a student,” she said. “I just grew up on campus.”

She launched her career with the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City but, after 11 years there, wanted something offering more intrinsic value. She next went to work for Miller Management, a public accounting firm dedicated to assisting churches and non-profit organizations, before transitioning to Youth Volunteer Corps.

“It was teaching leadership practices to them, which I learned at the Federal Reserve,” Hale said of her time with Miller Management. “I did that for seven years and then felt like, ‘You know, I love doing what I’m doing, but I want to do something that’s even bigger.’”

She says her Northwest education was impactful because it pushed her to find solutions to problems on her own – and she learned there’s not always one answer to every issue. She also developed an appreciation for diversity and learning from others who came from varied backgrounds. Those lessons, she says, helped her become a better person and a stronger leader.

“Northwest was more than just a college to me,” Hale said. “It was a pathway to discover how I could contribute to the world. I feel like the professors at Northwest didn’t teach me what to think, but they taught me how to think, which has been really critical in what I have done in all three of my career choices.”

These days, Hale is passionate about the mission of Youth Volunteer Corps and driven to ensure its affiliates maintain impactful programs and sustained growth. Earlier this year it received funding from 15 and the Mahomies, the foundation established by Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Major grant awards such as that are cause for celebration, but Hale says her proudest moments happen when she witnesses the perspectives of its youth participants evolve from a state of self-involvement to giving of themselves and showing empathy.

“It’s when I see the light bulb, the perspective change, the valuing of other students and other people,” Hale said. “When I see, for instance, a wealthy youth go to a homeless shelter and judge when they walk in the door and then turn it into empathy by the end.”

No matter their story, Hale hopes the youth she works with are inspired, empowered and developing a lifetime commitment to service while learning to value other people.

“So often when you’re being served, you feel hopeless,” Hale said. “You don’t understand that you have value yourself, and when you can serve others – because you don’t have to have anything to serve – you just have to show up.”

For more information about Youth Volunteer Corps, visit


Dr. Mark Hornickel
Administration Building
Room 215