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Leadership group aims to develop teenagers

By By Penny Randall / staff writer
Sept. 1, 2003
Leadership Lauderdale Youth is beginning its third year in Lauderdale County.
Beth Randall, 4-H youth agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, spoke with The Meridian Star editorial board last week about the upcoming year and how students can get involved in the program.
The Meridian Star: When did Leadership Lauderdale Youth start and how was it organized?
Beth Randall: The chairman of the adult program is Wayne Edwards and this was his dream and his vision. It's such a community effort through the (East Mississippi Business Development Corp.) and the Montgomery Institute. It really takes all the business leaders coming together so that they can provide the places for the young people to go and see.
Leadership Lauderdale Youth has been organized as a 4-H club. We looked at several leadership programs in several different counties and cites in Mississippi. The one that we liked the best was the leadership program in Brandon that is administered through 4-H. That's how we started we modeled after their program.
Neshoba County started a leadership program last year modeled after our program. A lot of cities have one Madison, Jackson, some on the Coast and Rankin County. There's one in Columbus and one in the Delta. They're becoming popular.
The Star: Are there age limitations?
Randall: Our program is targeted at 11th-grade students because we feel like they're mature enough to appreciate good leadership. And a plus is they have one more year to give back to their school and community before they go off to college.
The schools have to have a commitment too, because the schools let them miss one day a month to participate in the program. That is a big commitment from the school and it shows that they've bought into the program and see the importance of it.
The Star: Is there a limit to the number of the students in the program?
Randall: Yes. The program has a maximum of 30 students. Every application goes before a selection committee. There are certain criteria.
Leadership Lauderdale is open to students at Meridian High School, Lamar, Calvary Christian School, the four county high schools and home-schoolers.
Efforts will be made to balance students from each school for diversity. But we don't say, for instance, three from each school, because you're hurting individual students if you say a certain amount from each school. We want it balanced, and sometimes you lose your balance if you assign a number per each school.
The Star: What are some of the things students will be exposed to?
Randall: The first thing is a retreat in October. It's usually held at Roosevelt State Park. The retreat is mandatory because it's where the students get to meet each other. It's also where we begin the study of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens."
We do a lot of team work activities. They also design a logo for their shirt. They have to work and come to a consensus together. We empower them. We do not do this for them they have to agree.
Then we meet monthly November through March and study one of the seven habits. For example, November is citizenship. We divide into groups and one group goes to city government, one group goes to county government, one goes to the Montgomery Institute and so on.
The students interview the people at the places and tour the location. They come back and report to the entire group about where they went and what they learned. Then we have a group discussion about how each of these five entities contribute to citizenship.
The Star: What are some of the other themes?
Randall: Education and Workforce Preparation, Crime and Justice, Business and Industry, and Quality of Life.
Crime and Justice was the most interesting for the students. We toured the Lauderdale County Detention Center that is so powerful. It makes such a big impact on the students.
We go to the crime lab and that is so interesting. All of these things give the students career options. The impact has been tremendous. They have learned things different than I thought they would.
In March, we do Quality of Life. Connie Royal with the city of Meridian road the trolley with us and took us different places around town. She talked about the arts and entertainment center, Bonita Lakes and Habitat for Humanity.
The thing I like about this activity is that it opened their eyes to things right here in Lauderdale County that they didn't realize is here and that they can be a part of. It's so important when they're choosing careers to know that there are so many opportunities out there.
Then our banquet is in April. The banquet is for the student, their parent and a guest that the student brings who must exemplify one of the seven habits that we've talked about.
We're teaching them these habits and it helps them to actually look out in the community and see that there are people out there putting these principals into practice.
The Star: How is the program funded?
Randall: We're funded through a grant from The Riley Foundation, plus businesses and organizations give donations to the program. We depend on community leaders to serve as volunteers.
The Star: Why is this program so important for our students?
Randall: One of the most important things is learning the seven habits. Learning those and putting them into action in their daily life will make them successful in high school and as they go off to college.
I think it's just as important for them to see the opportunities that Meridian and Lauderdale County has to offer. We always have room for improvement and we can always do better. We have so much and this let's them see that people are working to make our community better and stronger. It's so important for them to see this first-hand.

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