NATHROP, CO — Thirty-four youth from BCFS Health and Human Services’ Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) programs across Texas recently returned from a few days in the Colorado Rocky Mountains where they explored the meaning, characteristics and actions of an effective leader.
Youth from PAL programs in San Antonio, Corpus Christi, McAllen, Tyler, Abilene and Kerrville ventured to Silver Cliff Ranch, a mountain retreat operated by BCFS, for four days of leadership-building activities, games and hands-on workshops.
“The campers had numerous opportunities to self-reflect on the leadership qualities they possess,” said Program Director Rachael Fletcher from BCFS-San Antonio. “They also reinforced the leadership theme through peer encouragement. It’s one thing to reflect on your own leadership qualities, but it’s another to hear someone share what they see in you; that affirmation is very meaningful.”
The youth were encouraged by camp leaders to journal their answers to some introspective questions: Who is the me I see? What are things that I like about myself and what would I like to change? What are some of the challenges I face? What kind of leader do I want to become? What do I want to take away from this experience?
“There were ongoing activities,” said Fletcher. “When they first arrived, each camper selected ten beads of the same color to make a bracelet that they would wear throughout their stay. As they saw another person displaying a leadership quality, they would give one of their beads away. At the end of camp, they had a bead ceremony where they displayed their multicolored bracelets and shared with each other the story of how they received certain beads from their peers. The real-life application allowed for a lot of personal growth for participants. ”
Jimmy Morris – BCFS’ Motivational Specialist and former Major League Baseball pitcher nicknamed “The Rookie” – led several leadership workshops. One of the most impactful occurred when he asked youth to listen to how his own challenges molded him into the person he is today. He then invited other staff and youth to share their stories, demonstrating that everyone experiences challenges throughout their lives, and how they handle those challenges builds their character and hones their leadership skills.
“The youth shared with one another, ‘this is what has made me who I am today, this is what I’ve been through to get here,” Fletcher recalled. “They also shared their goals, ‘this is where I want to be, this is where I see myself going.’ It was a pivotal moment. Everyone grew closer as they shared their stories with each other. It was powerful.”
Three youth who attended last year’s leadership camp were selected by staff to serve as Camp Peer Leaders. Peer Leaders were in charge of organizing different camp activities and leading small group exercises. Most importantly, they provided a leadership example for youth attending the camp for the first time. At the end of camp, they awarded trophies to the new crop of leaders based on their observations during the camp. Awards were given to the youth who best displayed the leadership qualities of confidence, ability to inspire, creativity, sense of humor, and most encouraging, to name a few. Some of the winners will be next year’s Camp Peer Leaders.
“The trip challenged me to look within myself and understand that being a leader is more than just leading by example; sometimes, a leader means being vulnerable,” says Fletcher. “Camp is my favorite time of the year, it is what I love the most about my job. Having the opportunity to build future leaders and create lasting memories means so much. Leading by example is something that I live by, so I was honored to have the chance to motivate these youth with lots of energy and lots of activities.”
BCFS is a global system of health and human service non-profit organizations with locations and programs throughout the United States as well as Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa. The organization is a national leader in medical sheltering and emergency management and response, providing critical emergency support services to federal, state and local governments. BCFS also provides residential services and emergency shelters for children who are abused or neglected; assisted living services and vocational training for adults with intellectual disabilities; mental health services for children and families, foster care and adoption services; medical services; early education; transitional living services for youth who are at-risk and those in the juvenile justice system; residential camping and retreats for children and families; and international humanitarian aid for children living in impoverished conditions in developing countries.