SHELL LAKE, WI -- The 3rd Annual WashCo Youth Leadership Adventure was held in August 2023. This three-day event was the culmination of months of planning, which focused on concepts contributing to each participant’s growth in leadership and resiliency.
Last spring, high school students across the county were invited to apply to help lead this event. Thirteen youth responded to be Crew/Mentors for the Adventure. These students completed more than nine days of training in various leadership, empowerment and resiliency skills.
The Crew training followed Everyday Leadership: Attitudes and Actions for Respect and Success (a Guidebook for Teens) by Mariam G. MacGregor. This allowed the Crew to dig into their own individual leadership styles. Middle school students were nominated by teachers, community members, and parents to become Explorers (participants).
During Crew training days, youth dove into learning many aspects of leadership skills through hands-on learning and activities. There were also alternate days when they were able to partake in new experiences including team building skills at Crex Meadows Wildlife Area, exploring a butterfly house and expanding their knowledge at the Science Museum of MN and the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Community organizations were invited to share their knowledge to the group as well. Danielle and Liza (Embrace) presented on healthy relationships. The Crew were also able to speak with Dave Wilson (County Board Chair) about topics specific to youth in the community. These community partners created connections with the Crew and provided them a broader understanding of how leadership plays into everyday activities and how essential it is to address needs within the community.
Serving others is an essential piece of leadership as well. In deciding how they wanted to address impacting the community, there was a lively discussion about various options. In the end, the Crew decided to support the Washburn County K9 Foundation through a bake sale held during the fair in Spooner. After a hot July day spent baking, the Crew raised more than $600.
With all of the newly acquired knowledge and skills, the Crew was ready for the Adventure. The training was modeled after a 3 day conference complete with keynote speakers, breakout sessions, networking opportunities, etc. Youth arrived at the Washburn County Services Building Tuesday at 9am, and returned Thursday around 4:30pm.
The Adventure began with community building activities combined with outdoor recreation options like swimming, kayaking, fishing and tie-dying.
Mike McGowan was the keynote speaker. He is the President of McGowan and Associates, a training and consultation firm specializing in education, conflict resolution, alcohol, drug, mental health, workplace and family issues. He works with schools, companies, parent groups, and students as a trainer, consultant and motivational speaker.
During the last twenty years he has given assemblies to tens of thousands of school children each year and has trained thousands of teachers in hundreds of school districts across the country.
Additionally, he has worked with social service agencies, the department of corrections, professional athletes and teams from the NFL, MLB, the NHL and dozens of private companies as a trainer and consultant. Mr. McGowan is a renowned speaker whose presentations are personal and inspirational.
During his engaging keynote, he addressed the typical challenges of adolescent life. The foundation of his presentation always came back to the importance of how we treat one another and the power it has to dictate our present and future.
To learn more about individual characteristics and traits, Beth and Emily from the Washburn County Extension office led a large group session. Everyone who took an assessment was assigned a code which gives a little more insight into how to understand ourselves and what makes each of us tick, as well as understanding how to work in groups, solve conflicts, and communicate more effectively.
Explorers also participated in numerous breakout sessions. The first round of breakouts focused on Mental Wellness with Mindfulness and Meditation, Neurographic Art, Thinking Putty, Service Project of building a community garden bed, and Keeping Yourself Safe-Minute to Win It. These were led by Shannon Starr, HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital; Elise Anderson, Washburn County Public Health; and Prevention Team Staff. Other breakout sessions were more active: Orienteering (Anna Demers), Ropes Challenge (Jacquie Buchmann and Bryanna Green, Lakeland Family Resource Center), and Creative Thinking (Beth Rank and Emily Burger, Extension). Sage Dunham from Hunt Hill was on hand to demonstrate how to survive a canoe flip, but a couple of rumbles of thunder, sadly kept everyone out of the lake.
No training in an outdoor setting like this would be complete without campfires and s’mores, night hikes to see the stars (with Anna), and the opportunity to experience nature.
Another thread woven throughout the Adventure were Leader Moments. These were devised as a way to connect with Explorers in real time. When staff or Crew members noticed Explorers stepping up to assist without being asked, or stepping out of their comfort zone, a Leader Moment slip was given. The giver would note why they were being recognized on the back. The slip was then entered into a drawing for local donated prizes from Aloe and Jade, Northwind Book & Fiber, as well as gift cards to Walmart, Subway, McDonalds and Kwik Trip. In addition to the prizes for Leader Moments, this project also received products for swag bags for each participant from Washburn County Health Department, River Street Dental and Spooner Health. Local financial assistance was also provided from Fuel Lab Nutrition and Spooner Health.
While the training was getting ready to come to a close, Explorers and Crew were exposed to many different opportunities to be involved in their community when returning home. Each table had 6 minutes to share about what it does and how young people could be involved.
Appreciation Bingo was our final event before loading the buses to return to Shell Lake. Explorers, Crew and staff were given bingo cards with various characteristics listed in each square such as “made me laugh”, “showed respect” and “took a risk.” Youth were asked to reflect on the Adventure and then recognize individuals that had enhanced their experience. While gathering signatures, participants shared why they chose each signer for the specific boxes. It was heartwarming to see and hear how impactful their experience was throughout the weekend.
What were the impacts? The Crew and Explorers completed an evaluation reflecting upon their experiences with the Adventure. What did they learn? What would they take with them? Here is a smattering of responses from the youth.
- I learned to be nicer to people, because if I’m nice then hopefully people will be nice back.
- It’s the best, would definitely recommend going.
- I learned how to connect with others.
- I learned to not judge people before you know them.
- It is a really fun, amazing experience.
- I learned to appreciate things around me.
- I met new people.
- I learned to listen to others’ opinions.
The youth that participated gained leadership and advocacy skills, new experiences and stronger relationships. With the Adventure as their basis for learning and becoming leaders, Washburn County will see impacts within the youth and community, not only in the next few months, but years to come.
If you are interested in learning more about the next Adventure or other youth programming and opportunities in Washburn County, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Healthy WashCo’s Website at healthywashco.org.