Summer is often spent by the pool, with textbooks and tablets nowhere in sight. But for nearly 80 of Alabama’s best and brightest students, a few of those vacation days were spent improving leadership skills at the Alabama Farmers Federation’s annual Youth Leadership Conference.
Held at the 4-H Center in Columbiana June 21-23, the conference provided high school sophomores, juniors and seniors from 33 counties an opportunity to network with peers from similar backgrounds. It allowed them to expand communication skills and foster agricultural involvement.
“Youth Leadership Conference attendees are primarily from rural areas, so it’s especially important we teach them the mission of the Alabama Farmers Federation while they’re here,” said Federation Young Farmers Director Jennifer Himburg, who organized the event. “These students have already proven to be leaders in their communities. The skills they’ll gain here will help equip them for life after high school and, with luck, encourage them to pursue a career in agriculture.”â€¨â€¨
State Young Farmers Committee Member Colin Wilson of Jackson County was a chaperon during the conference. He said planting the roots of agriculture early in students’ minds is essential to developing future leaders who may one day represent Alabama’s number-one industry.
“Many of these students will graduate high school this year. By showing them the impact farming and agriculture have on the state now, this conference has the opportunity to create rural allies and advocates,” said Wilson. “Every opportunity farmers have to share their stories with others – especially young people – is an opportunity we need to take advantage of.”â€¨â€¨
Throughout the conference, students learned to work with others they’ve never met, strengthened their confidence, learned to communicate more effectively and built team relationships.
Conference attendees also experienced the dangers of driving under the influence by participating in the Fatal Vision simulation, aimed at steering teens toward safe driving. Meanwhile, Guest speakers Clark Sims and Janice Johnson led discussions on practical approaches to leadership.â€¨
Clarke County High School senior Shannon Merida, 17, said she looked forward to the conference for weeks.
“I am so excited to be able to participate in this year’s Youth Leadership Conference,” said Merida. “I’m eager to learn how to strengthen my people skills and meet students from across the state. When I start looking for jobs, I’ll need to be able to communicate effectively with people I know and people I just met. I’m hoping this conference will provide some tips I can use now and in the future.”â€¨