Tayquanna Butler, of Wisconsin, plays a carnival game at Sarah Heinz House during a Keystone Conference party March 13. (Photo/Kelly Thomas)

More than 1300 high school students from across the country filled every nook and cranny of Sarah Heinz House for the national Keystone Club Conference.

The annual event, held this year on Saturday, March 13, brought together Keystone Club members from all corners of the United States for a weekend of community service, career and college visitations, panel discussions and presentations.

“The idea of Keystone is to prepare these leaders for tomorrow’s workforce,” said Sarah Heinz House Executive Director Stanley Pittman.

Saturday morning and afternoon, the 1300 club members worked on a service project in the Pittsburgh area, visited a college or went on a job shadow. After a hard day of work, members gathered at Sarah Heinz House for a night of dancing, socializing, food and fun.

This is the first year the annual conference has been held inside a Keystone Club member facility, Pittman said, chiefly because most club buildings are too small to accommodate that many people.

Pittman said members were able to choose their Saturday activity depending on their community service project requirements or whether or not they’d chosen a career path.

“Part of what we try to teach these kids is giving back to the community,” Pittman said. “I’m sure they felt good about the projects today.” The service projects were organized by Pittsburgh Cares and included a community garden project in Troy Hill.

A group of 70 to 80 local volunteers helped coordinate the Saturday night extravaganza and greeted arriving Keystone Clubbers with cheers and chants. Organizers turned the facility’s gym into a giant cafeteria with buffet-style hotdogs, hamburgers and chicken fingers for the hungry teens.

After dinner, the teens could grab a snow cone for dessert or brave the drizzling rain for roasted marshmallows and s’mores. And that’s just the beginning of their options, which included dancing in a large tent set up outside, racing miniature boats in the pool, playing  carnival games, playing video games and pinball, getting lessons in robotics, working out on the facility’s well-equipped gym, playing instruments in the music room or doing an art project.

In the carnival games room, Tayquanna Butler of Green Bay, Wis., attempted to roll a ball down a wooden slope and into a hole, unsuccessfully.

Thankfully, the sophomore’s day at Washington and Jefferson College was more productive. Butler said she was able to see the campus and catch a glimpse of dorm life, though she wants to visit more schools before she makes a decision.

Butler, who wants to work as a photographer for a crime scene investigation unit, said her first impression of Pittsburgh was that it’s big. “I’m not used to it.”

Pittman said that not just any Keystone Club member could attend the conference. Only members who had proven their leadership skills and dedication to community service and the club are chosen.

Twelve club members from Sarah Heinz attended, including Brettlyn Neal, a North Hills High School sophomore. Neal chose to do a job shadow in McKeesport. She doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do after graduation, but she knows she wants to do something with kids.

“[Keystone Club] has taught me to stand up for your beliefs, and it teaches you to stand up and be a leader,” Neal said.