The County Times
Thursday, July 11, 2013
Southern Maryland Youth Finds Inspiration, Makes Memories at LEAD 2013 For the fourth year, Southern Maryland teens got a leg up toward becoming effective leaders in their communities during the unique LEAD summer camp experience. A highly diverse group of 44 students from public and private high schools in Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties took on a comprehensive course in leadership, learning about motivation and empowerment, diversity, group dynamics and goal setting. While rigorous with workshops, group projects and hands-on service, the delegates also had ample time to get to know each other and create lasting memories and friendships. LEAD 2013 is a partnership between Leadership Southern Maryland (LSM) and the Maryland Leadership Workshops (MLW), with a mission to inspire and empower youth to become catalysts for positive change which coincides perfectly with LSM’s mission of regional collaboration. In fact, LEAD is an acronym for Leadership, Experience, Advocacy and Discipline, all components of the teens’ experience. The four-day, three-night camp welcomed rising sophomores, juniors and seniors to St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where they experienced campus living. LSM board members sat in on discussions offering mentorship and examples of how leadership works in the real world. Guest speakers Ken Carkhuff and Kim Mozingo joined the delegates on the first evening for a workshop asking them to define leadership. Both told the group about the importance of humility, a strong moral compass and getting to know the people you work with. Carkuff told the inquisitive teens, “Everybody has a story in life and when you take the time to hear it, you develop stronger relationships and become a stronger leader.” Students were asked to assess their own and others’ leadership styles. LaPlata High School senior Jake Lind said he acquired several new skills and discovered some talents he didn’t even know he had. On the final day of camp, Calvert High School senior Robert White said, “[I learned] that I can be a great leader someday.” He said he would encourage others to experience LEAD at least once. Purposely paired with dorm mates from different schools, with different interests, the delegates were encouraged to connect with their peers, find common ground and, through lessons learned in the diversity workshop, accept them and respect their differences. Nailah Jefferson said she was pulled out of her shyness, commenting, “The experience of LEAD was a blessing and I loved every part.” Jefferson, like several delegates, said the diversity training, while highly emotional, was
among her favorite parts of camp. “I learned how to look on the inside of a person and not judge them based on outward appearance,” she said. Thomas Stone High School student Lainie Richards felt a sense of camaraderie at LEAD and stated, “My favorite experience was people liking me for me … all my life, I have been picked on and coming here was like a breath of fresh air.” The MLW staffers are also a diverse group and are often just a few years older than the delegates, creating a comfortable and respectful environment in which to learn and share experiences. The staff supervised and played a great deal of get-to-know-you games with the delegates and taught thought-provoking workshops, all while maintaining the safety of the students and making sure each of the 44 delegates participated in the experience to the fullest . One wheelchair-bound delegate participated in every activity and got around campus quite independently, only requiring the willing assistance of her new friends a few times. Many said they were inspired by her determination to not be treated differently. Another delegate who faces the challenges of a neurodevelopmental disorder attended this year’s LEAD camp and participated right alongside his peers without special treatment. In a letter of appreciation, a relative of his praised all involved in the program. She wrote, “I’m not sure that the instructors and volunteers realize how much he absorbed, but he told me personally about leadership, action and accountability. And to this I say WOW!” To ensure all qualified delegates could attend, 12 full or partial scholarships were granted thanks to support from The Patuxent Partnership, SMECO, Lexington Park Rotary Club, Mechanicsville and Ridge Lions Clubs and members of LSM’s Class of 2013. Other students came to better understand their personal strengths and weaknesses, and were ready to put their newly-gained skills to use directly. Max Lucas, a junior at Great Mills High School, said, “LEAD really helps you understand who you are and how you lead and treat others.” He said he plans to apply the skills learned about motivating apathetic people as Platoon Leader of his school’s NJROTC program. Some students raved about the memorable evening bonfire and others said they simply enjoyed making friends with new people they may not have otherwise met. Delegates enjoyed the experiential learning aspects of the program, with a tour of Historic St. Mary’s City and a morning on the waterfront, getting up close and personal with some oysters
Playing a get-to-know you game, the LEAD delegates got to work meeting their peers shortly after arriving at camp. Photos by Carrie Munn
LEAD 2013 delegates and MLW mentors get together for a quick post-lunch group photo.
and the St. Mary’s River. While touring the State House and the replica of The Dove, the group learned just how timeless some of the principles of leadership are, as they heard details about the life of Lord Baltimore and the tribulations of the early colony founded on religious freedom. On Tuesday morning, the delegates trekked down to the waterfront at the college to join staff and volunteers from the St. Mary’s River Watershed Association for some hands-on community service restoring the local oyster population. For the second year, the Association has partnered with LEAD to connect delegates with their environment and educate them about water quality and oysters as powerful filters of the rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. Executive Director Bob Lewis explained the mission of the Association and how the approach is two-fold, including both restoration of the oyster population and curbing pollution. He issued safety guidelines then directed the groups to one of three stations. Students learned about the creatures that call the St. Mary’s River home, encountering a feisty blue crab, jellyfish and fish of all sizes as they took turns with a 100-foot seining net. Steve Schneider, a Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Biologist explained aquaculture, the life cycles of oysters, their critical function within the ecosystem and this once abundant bivalve’s history in Southern Maryland. He and Association board member John Spinicchia discussed current projects aimed at restoring oyster populations close to home and the many ways delegates and the entire community can help by being more conscious in their daily lives to avoid harming the watershed. Groups of students rode out on a barge guided by seasoned waterman and boat captain Craig Kelley with stacks of Marylanders Grow Oysters cages to be emptied onto the threedimensional oyster reef at the oyster sanctuary in St. Mary’s River. With the LEAD delegates’ help, about 600,000 oysters were introduced into this innovative habitat restoration project. Program Director Alison Rugila and several summer interns guided the students through unloading about 100 bushels of spat-on-shell from the Association’s oyster nursery tank, then putting 200 bags of washed shell back in along with 2.5 million larvae. LEAD alum and Great Mills senior Jared Kimmey, was working hard as part of his internship with St. Mary’s River Watershed Association. The inaugural oyster planting he participat-
ed in as part of his LEAD experience last year made a significant impact on him and his group selected raising awareness about oyster restoration and environmental issues among their peers as the subject of its final synthesis project. This year, delegates divided into two groups and offered synthesis project presentations before their fellow delegates, the MLW staffers and a panel of Leadership Southern Maryland board members. One group decided to focus on decreasing childhood obesity, sharing the staggering statistics of how commonplace an unhealthy diet and a lack of exercise has become for kids. They suggested solutions, like adults setting a better example, more community events and recreation centers that encourage more young people to get out, active, and healthy. The other group began and ended their presentation by acting out a scene. At first, a new student was fraught with no help from her classmates, and in the end, with the group’s mentoring initiative in place, the student’s experience was greatly improved. The group’s concept was pairing a junior with an incoming freshman or new student to help acquaint them with the school and allow them not feel so lost and alone. Both groups answered questions from the LSM panel and from parents, showing they had action plans in place and explaining how they worked as a group to construct these projects. Executive Director Karen Holcomb reminded the students they have LSM as an agent to work on their behalf should they want to pursue these and other topics relevant to their communities. Holcomb was very involved with the program this year and said, “It is terrific to participate alongside the delegates and truly see the program content and meaning emerge through activities and projects ... not to mention the bonfires, barges and oysters!” Whether students were encouraged to attend LEAD 2013 by advisors in their schools, family members or from seeing an ad in the local newspaper, they all agreed the skills gained and boost in confidence will benefit them now and in the future. Olivia Keithley, MLW Assistant Director, said, “This year’s LEAD delegates reminded me of the incredible ability and power young people have when they come together as leaders.” “These 44 young people are most definitely well equipped with the tools they need to make a positive change in their schools and communities,” she said.