LEWISBURG — Before the pandemic shut down their schools and canceled community events, 18 Preble County students had the opportunity to learn more about themselves, their community, and what they can offer the world, thanks to the Junior Leadership Preble County program.
Members of the student cohort were required to work alongside a team of their peers to create a final project focused on “Managing & Morphing the Preble County Brand,” which each team was to present at a graduation program originally slated for April 27.
COVID-19 put a halt to that plan, according to Preble County Chamber Executive Director Leslie Collins, but with the approval of Preble County Public Health, the committee was able to finally celebrate the students in a socially distanced event at Gatherings on the Green in Lewisburg, on Thursday, July 9.
The event utilized wedding banquet safety regulations. Individual dinner and dessert was provided via food truck, thanks to the Chuck Wagon and Ullery’s Ice Cream.
“They didn’t know as they completed their final full day Jr. Leadership session in March they’d not return to school for the 2019-2020 academic year,” Collins said of the students. “They didn’t know they’d end up under a stay-at-home order as a pandemic ravaged the world and the U.S. They didn’t know this year of their lives would be marked with constant news of racial unrest and debates about face masks.”
“They did know, however that they’d learned a lot about their home county,” she continued. “They knew they’d been assigned a team on the ‘Amazing Race’ they completed Thursday night with an assignment to create a presentation morphing the Preble County brand. And they found out they are born to lead.
“They deserved this opportunity to shine and celebrate,” Collins said. “We appreciate receiving the go-ahead from Preble County Public Health.”
Junior Leadership Preble County is a non-profit program of the Preble County Chamber of Commerce, modeled after the Leadership Preble County program. The program provides monthly leadership and community exposure to high school juniors and seniors from all five schools in Preble County, as well as local students from Miami Valley Career Technology Center. The program, which kicked off with its first session before Christmas in 2019, gives participants the chance to find out what it means to have grit, what their passion is, and learn where they can go if they persevere. This year’s theme, “Life is an Amazing Race,” embodied the curriculum which took the students through learning experiences a normal day at school does not typically provide.
Teams presented their projects Thursday evening, with the winning team getting to present a donation of $1,000 in their names to a charity they had chosen from those they’ve learned about this year. The projects were judged by a panel which included Preble County Juvenile Judge Jenifer Overmyer, Reid Health President Craig Kinyon, Director of the IU East Center for Entrepreneurship Tim Scales and Silfex Senior HR Generalist (and current adult Leadership PC participant) Kelly Kiracofe.
Team One included Jared Dunn, Tyler Stevenson, Makenzi Cooper, Annabel Ferguson, Liberty Chesney and Colton Toms. The group selected Jacob’s Ladder as their charity of choice should they win the $1,000 donation. Team One focused on a theme involving “Live, Work, Play Preble County.”
Team Two included Madeline Ebright, Mackenzie Neal, Matthew O’Dell, Brooke Dalton, Spencer Hunt and Alyssa Zdobinski. Team Two also chose Jacob’s Ladder as their charity. Team Two focused on tourism and economic development, bringing the two together with a budget for promoting Preble County and creating new events to bring in both revenue and visitors.
Team Three included Maggie Johnson, Erika Wilkinson, Christopher Farr, Jacob Doty, Sydney Bezich and Abbey Rodefer. Team Three chose the Mental Health & Recovery Board. Team Three created a video promoting Preble County.
“In the end, the judges, who said they had a very difficult job, selected Team Two’s presentation as this year’s winning project,” Collins said. “One judge said what set Team Two apart from the others was the fact they presented a problem, provided a proposed budget, and gave examples of how to get there.”
All Jr. LPC participants were awarded certificates of completion, a personalized leather portfolio, and a $1,000 scholarship from IU East, should they choose to attend the university to further their education.
“Leadership Preble County is in its fourth year, and it was past time to get the Junior Leadership program off the ground,” Collins said last year. “With the hard work of the extremely dedicated steering committee, we formulated a curriculum that is all our own, combining the civic portions of the adult Leadership Preble County program with programming aimed at helping the participants find their own passion, and perhaps, lead them to finding their future is right here in Preble County.”
“We hope the program will increase the students’ self-confidence by providing opportunities to practice and use leadership skills, broaden and deepen the students’ connection to community, and plant the seeds of service by encouraging students to serve others in their schools and communities,” Collins added.
The Junior Leadership Preble County curriculum ran concurrent with the academic school year and included four full days of programming. Through community-based experiences, participants become familiar with current issues, community and natural resources, and other factors influencing Preble County’s future.
Free to the students, the Junior Leadership Preble County program is provided through the Leadership Preble County funding of Kettering Health & the Grandview Foundation, Preble County Development Partnership and Indiana University East.
Members of the inaugural Junior LPC cohort included Christopher Farr, Annabel Ferguson, Matthew O’Dell, Jared Dunn, Brooke Dalton, Jacob Doty, Colton Toms, Abbey Rodefer, Alyssa Zdobinski, Madeline Ebright, Makenzi Cooper, Erika Wilkinson, Sydney Bezich, Liberty Chesney, MacKenzie Neal, Tyler Stevenson, Maggie Johnson and Spencer Hunt.
Along with Collins, the LPC Steering Committee included Preble County Career Connections Director Harold Niehaus, OSU Extension Educator Christy Millhouse, Preble County Development Partnership Economic Development Director Brenda Latanza, PCDP Assistant Aubrey Stevenson, Eaton Fire & EMS Chief Brian Smith, Opti-Vise IT’s Kelly McQueen, Lewisburg Village Administrator Jeff Sewert, Preble County Commissioner Rodney Creech, IU East Vice-Chancellor Jason Troutwine and LNCB Regional Manager Lori Pheanis. Latanza, Smith, McQueen, Sewert, Creech and Pheanis are all graduates of the adult Leadership Preble County program.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or follow on Twitter @emowen_RH.