Twenty-five high school juniors and seniors recently attended a leadership retreat to kick off the ninth year of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce Youth Leadership program. The 25 students-seven from Bradley Central, eight from Cleveland and eight from Walker Valley High Schools, and two from Tennessee Christian Preparatory School-were selected a few months ago to be a part of this program.
The Youth Leadership program encompasses eight months and gives the students opportunities to learn about our local economy, heritage and tourism, city and county services, health and human services, and a day in Nashville to learn about state government.
For the fourth year, the retreat kicked off at the Chamber of Commerce with a challenging presentation by Lee University professor and former professional tennis player Kay McDaniel.
Also on the agenda was discussion of six leadership qualities covered in Ed Gerety's book Combinations: Opening the Door to Student Leadership. Students read the book about gratitude, attitude, goals, respect, kindness and belief prior to the retreat.
“The students were challenged to discover and learn the combinations that will help open the door to student leadership,” Bernadette Douglas, the Chamber's executive vice president explained. “These are principles that will empower them to lead with character, make positive choices, and take action toward their goals and dreams.”
Jason Sewell, director of student life and leadership for Cleveland State Community College, brought a different perspective on leadership to the retreat by using Tinkertoys to encourage thinking outside the box, using problem-solving skills and team participation.
“This activity reveals that it's important to start with a solid foundation, put strong people in strategic positions, avoid being top heavy and take input from team members,” Sewell said about building “Towers of Triumph” from the Tinkertoys.
Students were also challenged to build a raft from plastics straws. They “tested” their floatation devices by adding pennies until the raft sank.
“This activity helped the students recognize the importance of planning for a project, working as a team and learning from their mistakes,” Crye said, adding that most teams built a better raft on the second try.
Each year the Youth Leadership class participates in a service project. This year's project will again include a fundraiser and an expenditure of “sweat equity” on a house for Habitat for Humanity. Matt Carlson, Habitat's executive director, explained to the students the purpose and efforts of the local organization. He also took them to Century Village to see Habitat houses under construction.
During the afternoon, students spent time at Bradley Central High School with Chad Laxton, teacher and coach, who lead them in some outdoor activities involving team building exercises and leadership.
“We try to gear all the activities and discussions during the retreat toward giving the students an opportunity to recognize some of their leadership skills and build on those while also having fun,” Crye said. “Most of the students already exhibit leadership qualities. We hope the
Youth Leadership program will strengthen them as leaders in their schools now and begin the process of preparing them to be future leaders in Cleveland and Bradley County.”