By Joel Hall
Clayton Youth Leadership (CYL), a program started by the Clayton County Camber of Commerce to help mold high school sophomores into leaders, is preparing for its 20th year. It will take applications for the 2009-2010 class until next Monday.
The initiative "exposes them [young people] to business ... to more than just high school, but what happens after high school and how they can continue to contribute to Clayton County," said Tamika McLester, chairman of the program's board of directors.
McLester, a training and development coordinator with the Clayton County Water Authority, added that the CYL was originally started by participants of Leadership Clayton, the chamber's leadership training program for adults.
"It was the offspring of Leadership Clayton from the  group ... to develop youths to become leaders in the Clayton County area," McLester said. "The program is only for [high school] sophomores. In [their] junior year, they head right into the graduation test. If they don't pass the graduation test, that delays graduation. We want to prepare them for that."
From September to May, every third Wednesday of the month, with the exception of December, CYL participants will spend the day taking classes focusing on public speaking, social etiquette in the business world, table manners, resume writing, interviewing, financial management, and other topics. During the program, students will attend county and city hall meetings, tour the Clayton County Police Headquarters, sit in on civil court cases, visit the State Capitol during the legislative session, and participate in community service projects.
One of the topics CYL participants will cover this year is "Technology Decency," in which students will learn how to use social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, to their advantage, rather than to their detriment, said McLester. As one of several case studies, students will discuss the story of one CYL alumna, who at the time of being interviewed for a position with Chuck E. Cheese restaurants, was asked to bring up her Facebook page.
"When she brought it up, it was all in order, but if it wasn't, it could have hurt her," McLester said. "If Chuck E. Cheese is doing it, imagine what IBM or Coca Cola is doing. We want to give them those cautionary scenarios to protect them."
Chauvon Jones-Owens, 17, a senior at Mundy's Mill High School, said the program has helped her to think independently, improve her leadership skills, and earn scholarship money.
"They taught us so much, not just the cliché, 'be-a-leader-work-hard' stuff," Jones-Owens said. "I got the chance to be a leader. I got to speak my mind, and do a lot of things that I wouldn't have been able to do anywhere else. I appreciate diversity a lot more, because the kids in my program were from a lot of different races and religions ... It felt a lot more like the real world."
Chamber President and CEO Yulonda Beauford said the program helps students learn "how things get done" in Clayton County. "It actually educates the students on the county," she said.
"They get an opportunity to meet with leaders from various industries in the county to hear first-hand what's happening in the county, and to know as they grow and develop, how can they make a difference in the county. You truly see their development as budding leaders," Beauford added.
This year, the program has openings for about 30 students, according to McLester. Applicants are required to have a 2.5 grade-point average, or higher, a four-page application with required signatures, a sealed transcript, a recommendation letter from a ninth-grade teacher, and a 250-word, or more, essay explaining why they should be chosen for the program, and what they hope to gain. The program fee is $50.
CYL alumni are encouraged to contact the program in order to help with the interviewing process. Interviews will be conducted on Saturday, Aug. 29, at the Clayton County Water Authority Community Room. For more information, call (678) 422-2839, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.