Another year, another CampFIRE in the books. The Center for a Vital Community’s youth leadership camp is the official start of summer for us.
For those of you who have real fears about the country’s youth and our collective future, I urge you to drop into Camp Roberts some year and meet these graduating eighth-graders. You’ll feel much better about our chances. This group was no different. Witty, kind, energetic and smart; our 2018 crop was small in number but mighty in impact.
Our camp is three and a half days jammed full of learning how to be the best leader interspersed with lots of outdoor activities, team-building games and yummy food.
With the addition of another day, we looked for special guests to share their perspectives on leadership with the campers. Not only did this approach save the kids from a constant Julie (Greer) and Amy Show, it also allowed for different voices and viewpoints.
Henry Rawlings, a wunderkind from the Tongue River Valley, University of Wyoming and lately out of the Peace Corps in Peru, connected with the kids about a leader’s vision, competence and, most importantly, integrity. Henry had a fantastic illustration of the definition of integrity. He held up his right hand and said, “These are your values.” Then he held up his left hand and said, “And these are your actions.” Then he put both palms together and said, “When they meet, this is integrity.”
How stunning is that? At an age when questionable choices are thrown at kids constantly, rocking their sense of right and wrong, having such a vivid example of holding tight to their integrity was spot on.
Colin Betzler, co-founder of Bought Beautifully, illustrated the pitfalls of assumptions. Who amongst us hasn’t misjudged a person or situation based on our own biases and experiences? And in the cutthroat environment of both social media and high school, assumptions are made by the millisecond.
Ryan Koltiska, executive director of Sheridan KidsLife, joined us Sunday to talk to the campers about influence. That was a subject they could get behind — who had the influence (parents, teachers, lawmakers) and who didn’t (them). But Ryan did a skillful job of teasing out of them how they also had influence, whether they recognized it or not. Further, he helped them identify how they could both increase their influence and ensure it was positive.
Scott Lee, a certified coach, speaker and trainer with the John Maxwell Team, as well as pastor at Bethesda Worship Center, had so many amazing illustrations of leadership, many of which turned the traditional model on its head. One of the quotes that really stuck with the campers was that leadership is about the happiness of the group before achieving the goal. You all get there together. Leadership is an invitation to lead others; it’s a privilege, not a right. That really got them thinking.
We wrapped up camp Monday with lots of closing activities, but one of my favorites is what we call “the lone nut video.” It’s a TED Talk about the often-overlooked key to all successful leadership — the first follower. The TED speaker narrates over a video of this guy on a grassy hillside at an outdoor concert, dancing all alone like a crazy man — in this case, a lone nut. It takes a little while, but eventually someone else joins the nut, cavorting alongside. Once that happens, it’s only a matter of seconds before more and more people start joining the nut and his first follower. By the end, the crowd is now dancing alongside the nut. A movement was born.
The narrator pointed out that without the first follower — that brave soul who walked away from the crowd to dance with the nut — there would be no movement. A leader needs to nurture that first follower because without him or her, the leader is just on a lonely walk — or alone, grooving on a grassy hillside.
Once again, my faith in teens was restored. That faith is constantly tested now that I have two of them living in my house. They really are listening; they really do get it, and they really do care. Try and see past the eye rolls, attitude and addiction to SnapChat. We’re in good hands.
Amy Albrecht is the executive director of the Center for a Vital Community.