Youth leaders in action

Cass County youth take action, serve community and learn leadership skills during summer program.

Washing cars
Program participants washing a car during the car wash to raise money for the Southwest Michigan College’s food pantry. Photo by Jackie Martin, MSU Extension.

Thirteen Cass County youth learned about leadership styles, teamwork and personal strengths and weaknesses while planning and implementing a community service project this summer. The five-day day camp was facilitated by Southwest Michigan College’s Educational Talent Search and was taught by three Michigan State University Extension educators trained in facilitating the goLead curriculum from GenerationOn.

Upon meeting for the first time on a Monday, the youth learned they would be executing a youth-planned community service project on the upcoming Friday, planned by the participants throughout the course of the week. Equally excited for the opportunity and nervous for the amount of work to be accomplished, youth jumped into the task at hand. Youth participated in team building activities to quickly build trust in the group and began learning about local areas of need, bringing in guest speakers to discuss potential opportunities for service projects.

After listening to a presentation from the college’s food pantry, the youth decided to host a car wash to raise money for the food pantry through donations. The car wash took place over the course of three short hours and raised almost $200 for the food pantry.

Leading up to the service project, youth planned all necessary tasks, sought permission from appropriate groups, worked with the Grounds Department to secure a location, hoses and buckets, and advertised the event. They also participated in exercises to learn more about leadership styles and approaches.

Upon reflecting on their experiences during the week, youth wrote letters to their future selves, saying:

  • You learned that good followers make good leaders, and those with the best listening skills lead best. You learned that leadership requires hard work and planning. Most of all, you learned that every leader must have a good team behind them in order to be effective.
  • Remember to always be a good listener. Also, always remember to step out of you comfort zone to say or do something that is the right thing.
  • I learned that a leader needs to listen, needs to make a stand, needs to take action.
  • Teamwork is about being patient and communication.
  • This week, I learned that a leader needs to listen, a leader needs patience, a leader needs challenges, a leader needs to take a stand, and a leader ensures work gets done.

To host a leadership academy in your community, contact members of MSU Extension’s Leadership and Civic Engagement team at

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