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Students show what it takes to be leaders

A new program gives ordinary students the chance to do the extraordinary. The goal? To prepare them for roles in their community.

By PAMELA GRINER LEAVY

Revised June 5, 2000

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 31, 2000


Move over Leadership St. Pete and Leadership Pinellas.

Make room for YouthLead, a program for area high school students sponsored by Family Resources, a St. Petersburg-based agency serving young people and their families.

All three programs have a common mission of identifying future community leaders and giving them the opportunity to network with each other, business executives and government officials.

However, membership in adult leadership programs often leans to those who have already reached the pinnacle of success, for example, judges, city managers or heads of non-profit agencies or corporations.

What distinguishes YouthLead is that it is for kids who may be different, who might not "fit in," are not already members of a Key Club or another school leadership organization.

While Leadership Pinellas has sponsored a similar program for the past four years, the north county organization has not specifically targeted students who may be left out or considered at risk.

Administrators at Family Resources asked high school teachers and guidance counselors to specifically identify students who are gifted and talented but perhaps haven't had the opportunity or motivation to become school and community leaders.

The YouthLead class of 2000 is composed of 30 young people from St. Petersburg High, Lakewood, Boca Ciega, Northeast, Gibbs and Dixie Hollins.

"We believe that teens can make a significant difference in society with support and encouragement from the community," said Jean DuPuy, supervisor of the YouthLead program for Family Resources.

"We are making plans now for the class of 2001 and many of this year's graduates are taking on leadership roles by serving on the advisory committee and volunteering as youth mentors at their prospective high schools for the next class."

Each participant was expected to complete a project that had a positive impact on the community. At a May 12 graduation program, students from each of the participating schools presented their projects to a panel that included St. Petersburg Mayor David Fischer, Fire Chief James Callahan and Pinellas School Board member Lee Benjamin.

Lakewood High School sophomores Dorothy Shipe and Ivana Spadijer, juniors Lauri Tondreault and Jessica Ware, along with senior Brian Spencer, initially wanted to schedule at least one public "Movie Night" either on the school's football field or in the auditorium.

After months of planning the project was denied on March 24 by Pinellas school administrators. According to Missy Church-Smith, Lakewood guidance counselor and adviser to the students, the reasons were concerns about safety and security.

Undaunted, the team regrouped and scheduled a movie and pizza night in May at a Family Resources "Safe Place" shelter. As part of its runaway prevention program, the agency provides short-term care shelters for youths between the ages of 10 and 17 who may need to live away from home because of a family crisis or argument.

To their surprise, at the shelter was a student the teens knew from Lakewood.

"They had to sign confidentiality forms and can't reveal names or information about students who live in shelters," said Church-Smith. "But having someone they knew in the shelter made the kids coming in not just a bunch of strangers bringing pizza and the movie George of the Jungle."

"The kids from Lakewood who did this as their project thoroughly enjoyed it because they think they made a bit of difference in somebody's life."

Jesse Almodovar, Sylvia Carew and Jennifer White, students at Gibbs High School, visited Sally House, a Salvation Army shelter for young children from infants to 12-year-olds. Children are placed at Sally House because their parents are found to be abusive, neglectful or drug users.

The Gibbs students played with the young children, sang songs and pushed them on swings. On a subsequent visit they painted some of the shelter rooms and arranged for a local store to donate new carpeting.

Additional members of the YouthLead class of 2000 include Subrenia Clark and Michael Worthington of Boca Ciega; Tanya Bailey, Bernard Butler, Katie Ferguson, Mike Jenkins and Christian Williams from St. Petersburg High; and Adam Blizzard, Sandy Chamberlain, Allen Greenway, Jason Leonard and Eben Smith of Northeast High School.

At monthly group gatherings, the YouthLead class visited the Florida Holocaust Museum, attended a leadership training session held in a local art gallery, took a tour of St. Petersburg and visited the Tampa campus of the University of South Florida. Besides having an opportunity to see a college campus and talk with admissions staff, they learned about career opportunities. The teens celebrated their graduation at a dinner and party at the Tradewinds Resort on St. Pete Beach.

YouthLead propelled at least two students who had never before been leaders into top school positions. Lauri Tondreault campaigned and won her bid to become student government president at Lakewood High School next year. Jessica Ware will serve as Lakewood student government secretary.

"The program made us more self-confident and gave us the skills we need to perform," Ware said. "We went through a communication class and they taught us how to talk in front of a large audience, taught us a whole lot of skills that make a difference when you are in student government. The program got us involved but even if you don't hold an office you can really be involved in school."

For further information, call Jean DuPuy, supervisor YouthLead, Family Resources Center, 550-4011.

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