“Tomorrow’s Leaders” By Michelle Jones, Program Director, Loudoun Youth, Inc.

Engaging today’s Loudoun County teens is no easy task. They exist in an environment of constant competition for their time, enjoy endless entertainment opportunities, and hold an exhausting course schedule that would make most adults’ heads spin. Add in after-school activities, social media, resume building experiences, and pressure to excel in everything, and it’s no wonder they’re often stressed. So, how do we prepare them to be tomorrow’s leaders? Do we pile more to-do lists on to their already full plates and tell them to get used to it, that constantly feeling overwhelmed is just part of a successful life?

Students working together at Empower Adventures Middleburg

There is an obvious need in our community for youth to learn about and practice leadership development through experiences, a tenant of our Loudoun Youth Leadership Program (LYLP). Loudoun Youth, Inc. empowers youth by giving them opportunities and tools they need to develop confidence in their ability to positively impact their peers, their community, and their future. We provide youth opportunities to have their voices heard and their ideas understood. We educate them on being a leader through connecting them with businesses and community. We connect youth from across the county and introduce them, not only to each other, but to local business and community leaders and organizations. During LYLP, these local leaders share their stories of success and hard work. But, they also share their stories of failure, resiliency and civic responsibility. This balance is immeasurably important in our competitive county, and makes our program unique.

Loudoun Youth, Inc. completed our first 2017 LYLP session on July 14th. This year, we partnered with Empower Adventures Middleburg, located at the gorgeous Salamander Resort & Spa, to practice leadership and to improve teamwork skills. Working together to accomplish goals, the teens built confidence and forged new connections with their peers. Afterwards, they completed a workshop on leadership, teams, and effective communication with an executive leadership coach. After assessing their own communication style, they learned how others often communicate differently, and how to adapt their leadership and communication styles to bring out others’ strengths.

Designing their ideal county in MPCCI’s “Balancing Act”.

The youth worked through a “Balancing Act” at Morven Park’s Center for Civic Impact, where they tried to answer the question, “How do leaders make responsible decisions when faced with a range of different interests, ideas, concerns, and hopes?” They became County Commissioners, and created their ideal county. This hands-on program prepared them to ask some tough questions when they connected with influential community and state leaders the following morning. These civic titans shared their personal leadership qualities, and empowered the youth to make a difference in their community, too. From innovators in the rural farming economy in Western Loudoun, to advanced technological and medical geniuses in Eastern Loudoun, all had similar examples of leadership for our participants: find what you love to do, treat others with respect, continuously be a student of your craft, don’t be afraid to take chances, and make the most of every opportunity.

LYLP participants engaging with leaders from the Redskins organization.

At the end of the week, it was the students’ turn to present their reflections on what they’d learned about leadership, and to share new goals they’d set for themselves. Many began with, “Adults always ask what my plans are for the future…” Since 65% of kids today will end up in careers that don’t even exist yet (World Economic Forum), they wish we’d stop asking! At 15, 16 and 17 years old, they still have a lot of life to experience before needing to choose their final career paths. Repeatedly, we heard, “we loved hearing stories from successful leaders about how they didn’t get it right the first time.” Let’s continue to share instances of trial, of overcoming difficulties and of pursuing careers that we love. That’s how we’ll empower tomorrow’s leaders and keep them connected to Loudoun County!

LYLP is a week-long, experiential program open to rising 10th, 11th and 12th graders who live in Loudoun County. Two sessions are offered each summer and the application process opens in late February. Want to see more? View the slideshow of our July 2017 session: https://youtu.be/v6RvjfJRDJA!