By Trina Trice
More than 20 Clayton County high school juniors are spending summer vacation learning how to lead and serve their communities.
As participants in Clayton County Youth Leadership, the students visited several sites throughout the county to learn about what makes a community tick.
The group started its leadership building with the Morrow Police Department and continued with trips to the Salvation Army, an Arts Clayton-sponsored art camp at Lake Ridge Elementary School, the Keep Clayton County Beautiful landfill, and the Clayton County Water Authority.
"Some of the kids' only contact with professionals is through their parents or relatives," said Mike Mead, a member of the Board of Directors for the Youth Leadership.
"This is making them aware of more options available to them."
One of the program's goals is to expand the knowledge and leadership abilities of students who successfully pass the application process.
"I thought it would be a good experience to express my opinions," said participant Rochana Joshi, student at Mt. Zion High School. What she's learned so far is "you should never be afraid to put your opinion out there because your opinion matters. And you have to learn how to work as a team. Being a leader is knowing how to work with a team."
Joshi plans to spend the rest of her summer attending future meetings of the Clayton County Board of Education.
"What I've heard is that the school board isn't doing their job correctly," she said. "I hope to give them my opinion."
Public speaking is one skill Youth Leadership participants learn during the summer, Mead said.
In addition to becoming a better public speaker, though, the hope is that promising students will return to the county after graduating from college so as to become positive contributors to the community.
Mundy's Mill High School student Miriam Spruill joined the Youth Leadership because "I felt this community needed more leaders and I felt I was a good candidate for "a leadership-oriented group.
Although Spruill would like to attend Florida A&M University, she doesn't plan to leave her home behind.
"I always wanted to come back and help the students," she said. That's why she hopes the Youth Leadership continues to help her "learn the best way to serve my community and to be the best leader of my community."
For more than 12 years, the county's Youth Leadership program has helped rising high school juniors build their communication and leadership skills.
To be eligible, students must apply in January of their sophomore year as either a Clayton County student or a resident of Clayton County.
They must have at least a 2.5 grade point average, obtain a teacher's recommendation, and complete an interview with members of the Youth Leadership Board of Directors.
The program is an outgrowth of the Leadership Clayton program sponsored by the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce.