By Tom Wheadon
On Oct. 7, DHS students senior Kimball Ostergaard, senior Christian Smith and junior Maggie Thompson found themselves at Saginaw Valley State University as part of a yearlong program organized by the Great Lakes Regional Youth Leadership Institute. The institute has a number of goals, some of which include building leadership qualities, teaching the importance of diversity, and encouraging teamwork.
Ostergaard, Smith and Thompson were three of 96 high school students from Bay, Midland and Saginaw counties that were deemed leaders by faculty of their respective school. The selection process, which took place in 32 public and private schools across the region, required teachers to submit the names of students they thought should participate in the program. The subsequent list was then narrowed down to just three names.
“I felt proud to be chosen and to represent our school,” Smith said.
Founded in 2005, originally as the Saginaw County Youth Leadership Institute, the program has expanded this year due to the efforts of SVSU, The Bridge Center for Racial Harmony and financial support from Dow Corning.
Kimberly Houston-Philpot, the president of the Dow Corning Foundation, which provides grants to various community projects, is particularly enthusiastic about the program and what is has to offer.
“We’re always happy to support regionalism, break barriers, and invest in youth development,” Houston-Philpot said. “Youth are the future.”
Houston-Philpot also outlined the importance of the program’s expansion and inclusion of Midland and Bay counties.
“The communities have distinct personalities and history,” she said. “In order to grow, we have to find ways to work better together. Strength comes from working together.”
The program is split into seven separate conferences, the first of which was an orientation that took place in October.
The opening ceremony of the conference saw Terry Moore, president of the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance, make a speech detailing the importance of utilizing potential, goals and leadership.
“Sacrifice tomorrow for today, or sacrifice today for tomorrow,” Moore said in his address to the youth leaders.
Students also received T-shirts and a book called “Now Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckinham and Donald Cliffon.
The attending students were then split up into 12 groups of eight, each lead by a volunteer from Dow Chemical and SVSU student mentors.
“I wish I had this opportunity open to me when I was in high school,” Alexandra Steele, a mentor and junior at SVSU, said.
Each group partook in a range of activities, including a 45 question survey designed to find key strengths, and a seminar called “Don’t Judge a Book by Its’ Cover.”
“The whole day was really cool. We got to know our group, discuss our backgrounds, and discuss what it means to be a good leader,” Thompson said. “I know I learned a lot.”
Smith had similar sentiments.
“It was definitely beneficial,” he said. “Anytime people’s skills can be improved and bettered, it’s a good thing.”
The groups also took part in an equestrian activity, the purpose of which was to encourage interaction, teamwork and critical thinking – all important elements of leadership. This was led by Tracy Weber from the Kaleidoscope Learning Center, a nationally recognized leadership facility.
The activity saw the formation of two groups that each had to coax a horse through an obstacle course they’d create. The rules stated that if anyone spoke, or bribed and touched the horse, they’d have to endure a self-imposed consequence they agreed upon prior to the activity. However, it was never specified that the consequences had to be negative.
“They were too focused on what they can’t do, not what they can,” Weber said. “This can be applied to real life.”
Throughout the rest of the year and program, the selected students will interact with community organizations such as the United Way and Salvation Army, and participate in service projects in an attempt to better themselves and the community.
“These students can help bring ideas and prosperity to the region, and hopefully inspire friends and family to do the same,” Houston-Philpot said. “These students are leaders.”