Smart Investment: Youth Leadership Development
Organizations across the region have recognized the need to ensure that the youth of our region will be well-equipped to take on the roles of business and government leadership, civic engagement and education reform as older residents step down from such positions.
Valley United Way (VUW) instituted its Youth Leadership Program 25 years ago for exactly that reason.
"We provide the skill-building opportunities, such as grant allocation and volunteering," says Pat Tarasovic, Director of VUW's Volunteer Center. "The students bring the desire to learn more about their community and to help improve it."
High school students from across the Valley participate in leadership activities, culminating each year in a rigorous grants process. Students learn quickly that there is always more need than there is funding to go around.
"The allocations process stresses to keep an open mind and to listen to other people's perspectives. It's one of the most important things about being a leader," explains Hudson Boles, a Youth Leadership alum entering his sophomore year at University of Pennsylvania. "Coming into the allocations process, I wanted my nonprofit to get all the money. But as I listened to what everyone else had to say, I thought about what could work best for the group and how best to meet everyone's desires."
Junior Achievement (JA) of Western CT brings leadership training and real-world experience into the academic setting for K-12 students, with the help of volunteer mentors from the local community.
"The ultimate goal of JA's youth programs is to ensure that graduating students have the financial literacy, 21st century college/career readiness and entrepreneurial skills to achieve their personal, academic and career goals," explains JA of Western CT President Bernadine Venditto. "The programs build confidence and leadership skills, behaviors and attitudes necessary to succeed in a fast-changing world."
"I try to go over things they might not otherwise learn in a classroom, or even from their parents," says Ansonia attorney and VCF Board member Timothy Dillon, who has been volunteering for JA of Western CT for over 25 years. "It's very rewarding to be a mentor, and I find the students enjoy interacting with each other and with me."
"Whichever path they choose, students learn what is involved in running a company," says JA mentor Ken Roberts, Director of Communication and Public Affairs at Griffin Hospital, speaking about the high school-level programs provided by JA. "The most valuable experience students gain is leadership skills to succeed in business."
Other organizations in the Valley, such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts; Boys & Girls Club of the Lower Naugatuck Valley; and the Youth Service Bureaus in Ansonia, Derby and Shelton focus on personal growth and being a good role model for others in the community.
The result of these youth leadership development programs is a well-rounded and motivated group of adults ready to lead our community. And the future is bright.
"I plan on staying in the Valley for the rest of my life," says another VUW Youth Leader alum Christopher Pawlowski, currently in UCONN's Engineering Program. "The Valley has been great to me and I plan to give back to it for as long as I can."
How You Can Help:
For more information on youth programs in the Valley seeking volunteers and mentors, visit: