As ninth- and 10th-graders traipse single-file up a hilly path, they’re not just enjoying a fall day at the 4-H Center in Columbiana.
They’re learning to take directions from, rely on and serve others — even while blindfolded.
Those ideas were key tenets of the 2017 Youth Leadership Conference Oct. 2-3, sponsored by the Alabama Farmers Federation and county Federations. Forty-two students represented 25 counties.
“When you have this many personalities and backgrounds gathered, it’s a perfect chance to learn how to work with others to bring about change,” said Jennifer Himburg, the Federation’s Young Farmers Division director. “I attended the Youth Leadership Conference in high school, and those friends have become my colleagues. Ten years down the road, I believe that’ll be true for these students and the network they form.”
Students soaked up lessons about social media, teamwork and leading by example on Day 1. They learned to support, trust and communicate with each other through a ropes course, balance beam activity and canoeing.
Marshall County’s Will Aycock said he plans to use tips from the conference in his role as the Alabama FFA North District reporter.
“On social media, you have to make sure you’re being true and authentic,” said Aycock, a 10th-grader at Albertville High School. “You don’t have to talk down to people to be a leader. You can be the quiet person on the team and still get work done.”
Former National FFA officer Barrett Keene encouraged students to focus on those they’re leading, as opposed to personal achievements.
“Leadership is not merely a position through which you tell other people what do to,” said Keene, who works in leadership development for car manufacturer Tesla. “Our lives are of substantially more value when we are freely giving and loving to those around us.”
Emma Martin of Geneva County said Keene’s session will make her a better SGA officer and leader at Slocomb High School.
“Now I know how to be a better leader and that leadership is not about being bossy,” the ninth-grader said. “A real leader always helps people.”
Patriotism was on the program for Day 2, as reenactors from the American Village in Montevallo taught students to fold, raise and honor the U.S. flag. A political leadership session with Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall followed. To close the conference, students learned about Federation history and debunked agricultural misconceptions.
View more photos on the Federation’s Facebook and Instagram pages.