Local Teens LEAD the Way
By Carrie Munn
Forty-seven students from Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s Counties arrived at LEAD camp on Sunday, June 24 with enthusiasm for the journey they were about to undertake. For the third year, LEAD offered a chance for the region’s teens to develop their communication, teamwork and leadership skills, enabling them to carry those lessons forward into their schools, their communities and beyond.
The camp was a four-day, three-night residential and experiential learning opportunity offered by Leadership Southern Maryland (LSM) and the Maryland Leadership Workshops (MLW), held at the scenic St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
In many ways, the LEAD camp draws from the same principles as the prestigious LSM, an independent non-profit which offers a nine-month leadership development program in the tri-county area. But, instead of executives, the camp is geared specifically toward 10th, 11th and 12th grade students, enabling them to learn what leadership really is and gain a heightened awareness of the critical issues affecting these neighboring counties.
The camp is professionally run and staffed by a diverse group of young professionals from MLW. These counselors not only instruct the LEAD delegates through a series of workshops and activities, but they also develop a rapport with the teenagers and help them see just how far their newly-acquired skills can take them.
Kori Jones has participated in MLW programs for seven years and is currently a program manager for Howard County’s Department of Recreation and Parks. He said the transformation in these delegates in a short period of time is intense, adding it’s a rewarding experience to witness that growth.
Sterling Grimes, an eighth year staffer, is currently a teacher in Philadelphia. Calling himself “ancient” at age 23, he said he and the other counselors are able to relate to the delegates. “We try to bring in a good level of rigor,” Grimes said. “These kids can take the skills they gain here and use them everywhere “¦ these professional concepts won’t be foreign to them and they’ll go out and be ahead of the pack.”
This year’s participants came from diverse backgrounds, with varying interests from sports to music to student government and engineering. That diversity was instrumental in allowing the delegates to better understand the perspectives of others and, eventually, they found plenty of common threads.
This year, thanks to the generosity of business and community sponsors, 15, or 32 percent were able to receive full or partial scholarships to attend the camp.
The delegates took a day to get acquainted with their surroundings, the rules and the basic concepts of what leadership means and the many perspectives that shape its broad definition. They participated in ice-breaker activities, getting to know their peers and counselors in small groups. Some were more outgoing than others, but time spent sharing a dorm space and working collaboratively brought many out of their shells.
Workshops brimming with practical and valuable lessons taught the delegates more about self awareness, group dynamics, leadership roles and styles, effective communication and presentation skills, project management and diversity. And during their social activity and recreation time, friendships were established and strengthened.
Molly Cook, a Leonardtown High School junior, said she enjoyed the intellectually challenging experience the LEAD camp offered, adding she planned to follow it up with a more physically strenuous camp this summer.
Caroline Haddaway, from Maurice J. McDonough High School, called the camp “well planned.” She explained the games, while fun, really connected to the leadership skills and each lecture led nicely into the next.
Many students said they had participated before and enjoyed the experience or gained so much they decided to attend again. Many staffers, like Donald Shubrooks and Amanda Werrell, also said LEAD had brought them back in a different capacity.
“I just love the program and the rest of the staff, so getting to come back and work with them again is just great,” said Werrell, a Leonardtown graduate and current sophomore at Middlebury College.
An added feature to this year’s LEAD experience was a hands-on field trip that took delegates across campus to the waterfront, where they learned and worked along the St. Mary’s River Watershed Association (SMRWA) in a full-scale oyster restoration lesson and restoration effort.
LEAD delegates and a bevy of volunteers planted 500,000 local, cage-grown oysters in the St. Mary’s River. Aside from their barge and boat trips out to place these oysters, they also learned a great deal about the pollutant-filtering which help restore the health of local waterways.
Environmental and aquatic life experts oversaw oyster dissections, lessons on the Marylanders Grow Oysters program, spat counts, water quality sampling, seining and species identification. The tactile experience brought delegates up close and personal with creatures and the concern for clean watersheds throughout Southern Maryland. They also earned three hours of community service learning credits from their respective schools.
“I don’t think Bob Lewis [SMRWA Executive Director] really knows how much what he’s doing impacts our program,” said Grace Fischer, LSM Program Manager. She was pleased to announce the group had announced its commitment to continue the collaboration in future summers.
By Wednesday, the delegates’ last day at camp, many whom started off shy had found a friend or two to share laughs with between and during activities.
Fifteen-year-old Tysonia Gorrick said, in addition to learning how to make smart goals and accomplish them, how to work well in groups and to identify her own leadership style, she really enjoyed meeting all the other students. “I made a lot of friends and became closer with some of the ones I already had,” she said.
St. Mary’s Ryken junior Caitlyn “Kimmy” DeLuca shared that one of many great memories from LEAD experience this year was when her team, counselors included, gathered in a circle, wrapped their arms around each other and sang “Lean on Me”. The singer, dancer, actress and set designer said she plans on attending the MLW at Washington College at the end of July as well and stated, “I encourage anyone to attend the LEAD program.”
Others seemed to exude confidence when it came time to present their group synthesis projects. In front of their peers, parents and a panel of LSM board members, the two groups offered thoroughly thought out solutions to shared problems. One group focused on the lack of awareness about the oyster restoration effort and the degrading environment while the other tackled the lack of adequate and variety-conscious recreation facilities for teens in Southern Maryland.
One group proposed the use of social networking to keep teenagers in the loop about simple things they can do to benefit the environment and opportunities to participate in events like the oyster restoration project they partook in.
The other proposed organizing to see a YMCA established as a solution to benefit their peers and the community as well, with facilities in each of the three counties or, at least, one in a centralized location.
Both presentations dealt with not just a perceived problem and a proposed solution, but also the logistics, obstacles and realities of bringing such ideas to fruition. The groups applied their learned skills and answered questions from the panel, which gave them encouragement to pursue their proposals.
A secret ballot on the last day was taken to see who had grown the most during the camp and that winner, to be announced August 18, will be granted a full scholarship to MLW next summer.
LSM Executive Director Karen Holcomb said each year the group is honored to work with the terrific teenagers and caring families in our communities. “It’s always a renewing experience for everyone associated with the LEAD program,” she said.
“Our future is bright with such capable young adults in our midst.”
Source: Leadership Southern Maryland