Blair Chamber launches Leadership Youth Program

For the past ten years, Leadership Blair County, an adult program designed to bring the leadership skills out of residents and increase community awareness, has been working wonders. Now, the sponsors of the program, the Blair County Chamber of Commerce, is targeting the young people for the same reasons.
“It’s a great program that’s going to have an impact on Blair County in the future,” said Linda Stotler, communication director at the Chamber. “We’re looking forward to watching these young people grow.”
The program is already underway, and, according to Stotler, those participating “just love it.”
“They are having so much fun,” she said. “I’ve already heard a lot of them say that this is not what they expected. Many thought it would be a lot of classroom instruction, but that’s definitely not the case. The sessions are so diverse with a lot of hands-on experiences and group interaction.”
Over the course of the program, participants will develop leadership skills that they can use in their schools as well as in their communities. Program organizers believe the experience students receive through the program will change their lives as well as the lives of people around them.
The students attend this program at no cost to them, their families, or their schools. The cost will be incurred by Blair County business leaders who agree on investing towards the youth leadership in the schools.
Donor businesses are asked to support the program through tax-deductible contributions in any amount. For a $1,500 annual gift, the sponsors will be affiliated with a participating student throughout the year.
LBCY kicked-off its first session with an overnight retreat. Norman Hull, from Josten’s Speaker Bureau, located in California, was the facilitator at the retreat. The focus of discussion was that actions make things count; and words merely aren’t enough.
According to Stotler, the interest in the program was raised years ago when a class of the adult participants thought to begin a youth program as a class project. However, due to the work involved, it just wasn’t feasible for a class project.
“So the idea really sat on the back burner for a few years,” said Stotler, “But then the chamber here re-visited the idea and felt it would be a good thing to start. As far as I know, there are no other programs like this in the area.”
The 23 participating sophomore students selected from the eight high schools located in Blair County were required to complete a written application, write a 250-word essay on the challenges facing youth today, and submit letters of recommendation from teachers and counselors. The program consists of an overnight retreat and eight monthly, day-long sessions covering a wide variety of topics.
According to Stotler, all Blair County youths are eligible to participate in the program.
“We’re not just looking for the straight A, honor student from the two-parent, white American family,” said Stotler, “and we’re not just looking for the ‘born leaders.’ We want a diverse group of students that may not have the leadership skills now necessary in life.”
Five students from the Northern Blair County area are participating in the program – Liam Flynn, Bethany Helsel, Ashley Lechner and Ashley Mueller, all from Bellwood-Antis, and Kristen Gurekovich from Tyrone.
The next session of Leadership Blair County Youth will be on Oct. 7. The session will be held at Greater Career and Technology Center in Altoona and will focus on the election process.