EATON — The brainchild of an area church organization’s student ministries director turned into an eye-opening experience for several county leaders on Friday, Sept. 14.
The first-ever Youth Leadership Conference, organized and hosted by Community of Faith Church Director of Student Ministries Bekah Kvas, and supported by the Preble County Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Preble County, hit the ground running.
“The youth of Preble County are many things — intelligent, talented, passionate, and driven. The diverse academic and extracurricular options that already exist, leaves us often wondering what else we can offer them,” Kvas said. “The idea of the Preble County Youth Leadership Conference started when I realized that students often lack one thing — connection — mainly with mentors and leaders within our county. In my position as Student Ministries Director for Community of Faith Churches, I have learned that one key to success for many students is connection. Connect a student to the right relationships and they are set to succeed.”
Kvas approached PC Chamber Executive Director Leslie Collins with the idea several months ago, and Collins jumped on board whole-heartedly.
“Bekah’s vision for the Youth Leadership Conference was an awesome one, and something which helped me, and the chamber, validate our vision for the need for the Junior Leadership program we are launching alongside the current successful adult Leadership Preble County program,” Collins said. “In fact, OSU Extension Educator Christy Millhouse, Bekah and I will be working together to kick off Junior Leadership later this year.”
At the Youth Leadership Conference, students had the opportunity to learn from high-level leaders across the area. These leaders were able to discuss with the students the ways they manage people, leadership skills needed for life, and the failures and successes they have seen in their own lives and businesses.
“The students participated in team building from the local U.S. Army Recruiters,” Kvas said. “They also put the leadership skills they learned, together with their creativity, to perform a problem-solving exercise. Students were given a task of finding a solution to why a large number of Preble County residents leave the county for employment.”
“From start to finish, this conference became an eye-opening experience for both the students and leaders, as they were able to discuss a unified goal for ‘how do we engage the next-generation and what are we doing to help them?’” Kvas said. “A couple of things became very clear following the conference. One, students are enthusiastic about being positioned in new levels of leadership. Another is that Preble County leaders are diligently searching for new avenues to ensure these students are equipped to lead.”
Preble County Commissioner and business owner Rodney Creech was pleased with the conference. “I thought it was great to see so much interaction between the different schools and young leaders,” he said. “It was also interesting to get input and hear the thoughts from our innocent and unbiased young leaders. I learned a lot from them on what we needed to do in the future to communicate the workforce possibilities and describe what it takes to keep our young adults in the community. I hope they learned as much from us as we did from them.”
”What an awesome opportunity for our students!” National Trail Superintendent Bob Fischer participated in the day’s activities. “Youth Leadership Preble County offered an opportunity for our students, hopefully the future leaders of Preble County, the ability to hear from current leaders about what our students can do in order to make a positive impact in everything they do.”
Fischer continued, “The YLC offered our county leaders an opportunity to see what the students think are crucial or vital problems and what their suggestions might be for possible solutions to solve these problems. I was impressed with the questions that our students asked — it definitely shows that they want to make not only a positive impact on society, but want to ensure that they leave a positive legacy for others who will follow in their footsteps.“
“This event was amazing!” Economic Development Director Brenda Latanza said. “I was so impressed with the engagement of the students in the brainstorming session and in their presentation skills. We have great leaders coming up in Preble County. They were asked to give us ideas on how to keep our young workforce here in the county filling the jobs that are available. Many of the solutions the students came up with (i.e. internships, company tours, a job board) are the projects that the Preble County Development Partnership’ Workforce Development Committee are currently working on.”
“We are promoting strategies that use industry partnerships to support young adults in developing in-demand skills, preparing them for a successful career and securing a job,” Latanza said. “If this goes un-addressed, it could have long-lasting consequences for the communities where they live.”
“The PCDP Workforce Committee will be holding its sixth Manufacturing Days event in November, started the first internship program last fall, and our educators are working with Jobs and Family Service Apprentice Ohio to develop relevant apprenticeship programs in the county. It was eye opening to see that the students had been having the same thoughts!”
Preble County Juvenile and Probate Judge Jenifer Overmyer, who helps out with sessions of adult Leadership Preble County, participated as a panelist, and found the program beneficial.
“I think it was wonderful that we had juniors and seniors from all high schools getting to interact with each other and community leaders,” she said. “At many functions, it’s just seniors and then they graduate and move on and we have nothing to build on. I hope the students saw that we work together, and that we value their opinions as well.”
Especially regarding the last activity of the day, Overmyer noted, the question as to “what will keep young people like them in Preble County.”
“I hope they also realized that they can start building leadership skills now, which is advantageous, as up until now I’ve only been involved in doing sessions for the adult leadership class,” Overmyer said.