Turning Today’s Youth Into Tomorrow’s Leaders

Today’s youth will be tomorrow’s leaders. That’s why it’s so important to raise our children with confidence and good ethics, and to serve as mentors and positive role models. The Lehigh Valley’s goLEAD program takes things a step further, offering a unique, one-week training program to help guide and prepare young high school students to take on leadership roles in their communities. Students learn the importance of service as motivation to rise up to be a positive leader who can spearhead their own projects and events to better the community now and in the future.

The goLEAD program is offered through the Volunteer Center of the Lehigh Valley. Students who participate in the program learn effective skills in peer networking, leadership and how to become a leader, and means of making meaningful contributions in their communities. Each day focuses on a different topic area, such as the components of leadership, visions and goals, teambuilding, and the significance of service and volunteering.

“goLEAD is a great opportunity for students to engage with other students from the community from different schools,” says Karen Smith, CEO of the Volunteer Center of the Lehigh Valley. “In 2018, the group included students from 15 unique schools, which provides the students the opportunity to make new friends and network. In addition, many of the students have revisited the nonprofit from the capstone post our program.”

Each year, between 20-25 participants come out for the goLEAD program. Students who wish to participate must send in an application including a short essay on why they should be selected. In addition, two interns work to coordinate lesson plans and educate the participants on leadership topics.

“They are 100% in charge of the whole program and receive support from the Volunteer Center staff as needed,” Smith adds. “There is always a staff member onsite for the camp throughout the week, and oftentimes board members will come to the class and share their roles and perspectives.”

As part of goLEAD’s curriculum, students participate in a capstone project, which allows for a nonprofit to have more than two dozen high school students onsite to lend a hand. The overarching theme for the goLEAD camp helps to determine which nonprofit is selected, and the two interns leading the camp will make a determination. The theme for 2018 was hunger and homelessness.

“In 2018, the students volunteered at Sixth Street Shelter for their capstone project,” Smith says. “They were able to help clean up the apartment buildings, clean up the landscape and gardens, organize the food pantry and play/color with the kids who lived there. The students had a very eye-opening experience.”

The goLEAD program creates connections between participants and nonprofit organizations that otherwise would not exist. The students enjoy the ability to volunteer and learn the importance of serving the community and the greater impacts that service can inspire. Meaningful connections occur from the community, too, and in particular with some of the local businesses. In particular, Air Products serves as the lead support for the program, helping to identify and coordinate interns as well as providing financial support to keep the program running.

The experience leaves a lasting impression for everyone involved, and especially for the interns.

“Working with the Volunteer Center and leading goLEAD in 2018 was such a great experience and opportunity that taught me so much about the community as well as how important the goLEAD program is for high school students,” says Imani Stevens, Penn State Lehigh Valley, graduating senior May 2019.

“Engaging youth and providing an opportunity to serve the community can be life-changing for these students,” says Smith. “One student wrote, ‘The program really changed my life, and my perspective on how people treat the environment. I didn’t think I would like the camp, but it really gave me a wake-up call on all of the issues that are going on in the world and how I can help,’” Smith shared.

How You Can Get Involved

No matter where you live, you can find ample opportunities to get involved and serve your local community. Karen Smith notes that the Volunteer Center shares opportunities from more than 300 nonprofit organizations. Here’s how you can help:

»Visit the Volunteer Center website (volunteerlv.org) and look under the Volunteers tab to view current opportunities and needs.

»Search by dates, schedule, location, keywords, and other categories to find a good situation for you. Choose between date-specific and ongoing opportunities.

»Check out the Wish List page to find the current requests of various member agencies. These groups may need supplies, furniture, equipment, and other donations.

“There is always something for everyone. Volunteering and participating in programs like goLEAD just requires someone to take the first initiative to get involved and the Volunteer Center makes that very easy,” Smith says.

For more information about goLEAD, visit volunteerlv.org/go-LEAD.

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