On Tuesday morning, the commission chambers at the Reno County Courthouse overflowed with teenagers in bright red polos. There weren’t enough chairs for all of them to sit, so they lined the walls and spilled out into the hallway. These kids, all of whom are participating in the Ulster Project, were at the Reno County Commission meeting to hear a special proclamation.

“I hereby proclaim the month of July 2018 to be Ulster Project Month,” said Ron Hirst, Chairman of the County Commission. He recognized the 35 teenagers and six counselors who were participating and asked them all to stand.

“We can never thank you enough for this opportunity,” Ashlene Magee, a counselor from Northern Ireland, said to the commissioners.

The Ulster Project was founded in 1975 by Reverend Kerry Waterstone, who had participated in his own pastoral exchange with a church in Manchester, Connecticut. After seeing how different Christian denominations were able to coexist peacefully in the United States, he thought this would be a good model for Northern Irish teenagers to see.

Hutchinson joined the project in 2000 and is now in its 19th year. Throughout July, now officially the Ulster Project Month, the Northern Irish teenagers are living in Hutchinson with their host families, and are participating in teambuilding activities and community service.

Once a week, all the teenagers also gather for Time of Discovery, where they discuss divisions in both American and Northern Irish society. According to Keith Neill, president of the Hutchinson Ulster Project, these conversations are kept confidential so that the teenagers feel comfortable while discussing difficult topics.

At the county commission meeting, Hirst also encouraged citizens of Reno County to engage with the project, and take a moment to welcome the Northern Irish group to Kansas.

County Commissioner Dan Deming added that he was excited to see the project taking place again. “It was really cool to see the group marching down Main Street in the Fourth of July parade chanting ‘USA! USA!’” he said with a laugh. “So thank you for that.”