By Ari Pak, MD High School Program Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of Chelsea Iorlano, Development & Communications Associate
Summer break means six weeks of engaging and fun summer programs for MD AALEADers! Before MD summer programs started, high school youth applied for the position of High School Leader (HS Leader) to serve in the MD summer program as group leaders for the middle school youth. Thirty one youth were selected to serve as HS Leaders. HS Leaders work in small teams to guide groups of middle school-aged youth throughout the six weeks of summer programming. They provide peer leadership, guidance, and mentorship to middle school-aged youth, allowing all AALEAD youth get to step into leadership roles.
Last week, HS Leaders attended a Camping Training Retreat in Northern Maryland in order to build their skills to serve as leaders for their summer groups. The three-day trip kicked off with some of the more seasoned campers taking the lead and helping the rest of the group build the six tents that would be our shelter for the next two nights. The excitement, teamwork, and positive energy that everyone brought set the tone for the rest of the retreat: everyone was all-in the entire time, whether it was giving 100% to a Facilitation Skills Workshop, going all-in on a friendly yet competitive game of Taboo, or cooking breakfast, the positive spirit and energy was contagious.
Youth engaged in structured workshops to build their skills as group leaders, workshop facilitators, and discussion leaders. They were able to work together to learn new skills for creating effective, engaging, and exciting activities to ensure that all middle school youth in summer programs would get the most out of their experience. Youth worked together to set and reflect on personal leadership goals, present to the group, plan and execute workshops, and support their peers in building their capacities. HS Leaders put their training into practice, planning workshops they will be leading alongside their middle school AALEADers during the MD summer program, Summer Serve.
In addition to the leadership and facilitation skills, what felt most special was that HS Leaders came away with a deeper understanding of themselves and each other. Through stepping out of their comfort zones, getting to know new people, and sharing their stories with each other, they created bonds across their differences through understanding and compassion. I remain inspired by how much they are willing to open up and create community and family with each other. I am left touched by how much they are willing to envision a world that can hold the complexities of life with the importance of love and support; a world that can hold silly and fun games, deep and powerful stories, a willingness to listen to and see others as their full selves, and a world where they can create space to step into their most powerful versions of themselves.
Here’s to a powerful weekend retreat, the inspiration and care that the HS Leaders shared with one another, and the hope that I could share a glimpse of that with you.