Youth learn about leading with integrity

By Tracey Wright

In this age where some have a negative opinion of youth, it is important to me to lift up examples of youth who defy negative perceptions.

I recently had the chance to reconnect with a program designed to help rising eighth and ninth graders enhance their leadership skills.

My role is to coordinate community service opportunities for the group and help them better understand how providing service to others relates to being a good leader.

Getting the group to understand  the strong work ethic needed for effective collaboration  is also important.

Our conversation about what they should do while at their community worksites revealed this group had good intentions. Some of the words they used were “be respectful,” “be nice,” “work hard,” and “ask for more work.”

A colleague engaged the students in an activity that allowed them to individually create a garden using materials provided. Then she had them connect with other students  to combine resources to create another garden.

This effort resulted in amazing creations that illustrated the power of working together to accomplish a goal versus working alone.

I had each group write a pledge to present to the agencies.  These pledges spoke of having a positive attitude, of not complaining, and of  producing results that let others know they are emerging leaders in North Carolina.

During the reflection time after the service was provided, it was no surprise that the agencies were able to share that the students had in every case exceeded  expectations.

Helping to instill in youth how leaders are able to identify issues and problems and work with others to find solutions is important to me.

Through reflection, they were allowed the opportunity to make connections regarding how providing service to others is a critical component of being a leader.

This opportunity allowed them to see how giving back and serving others  is fundamental to being a good leader.

Leading with integrity requires that we are true to ourselves, while also being true to others; they witnessed this in action as they did their work.

What are we going to do was the question; work was their answer and work they did.

Opportunities like these, whether with youth or adults, reminds us that when we take the time to give to others, we can indeed help better our world.

Tracey L. Wright is assistant vice chancellor for student development at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., and a member of the 2003-05 class of the William C. Friday Fellowship for Human Relations, a program of the Wildacres Leadership Initiative in Durham, NC.  The youth leadership program mentioned is the Emerging Leaders Institute of Lead for Life Youth, nonprofit agency.

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