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Connecting with today’s youth on a different level

Posted: July 5, 2011 3:15 p.m.
Updated: July 6, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Hugh O’Brian is probably most famous for playing the character Wyatt Earp on ABC’s “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp” which debuted in 1955.

That was about 30 years before I was born, so that’s not why I’m familiar with his name or legacy.

In fact, his name does more than merely ring a bell to me. I have this man to thank for opening many opportunities for me by creating Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY -- pronounced ho-bee).

As the story has it, O’Brian made a trip to Africa in 1958 to visit Dr. Albert Schweitzer. During the trip he was inspired to create HOBY, a non-profit program designed to teach high school sophomores how to think, not what to think. The program unites countless young people with similar interests and encourages them to be active leaders within their communities.

As most HOBY alumni will tell you, you can’t really explain the HOBY experience. It’s just something you have to go through to understand.

Life-changing. Exhilarating. Exhausting. Outstanding. Those are just a few words that come to mind.

HOBY is a weekend-long leadership seminar in which rising high school juniors learn about volunteerism, integrity, innovative thinking and community service. They do this through speakers, panels, group activities and team building challenges.

For the past eight years, I’ve been volunteering for this organization and each year I’m more impressed with the caliber of young people in high school today.

These aren’t the students making the headlines on the 6 o’clock news. These are hardworking, goal-oriented kids that know what they want out of life. They are passionate. Some of them may not even know exactly what they are passionate about yet -- but the spark is there. They love to learn. They love a challenge and most of all, they have the courage and motivation to lead others.

If these students are our future, the future is in good hands.

More than 10,000 sophomores go through HOBY each year from all 50 states and eight countries. They do more than participate in ice breakers and panel discussions -- they make a difference.

They have three days to bond with each other and network.

Three days to exchange ideas and goals.

Three days to learn how to be more active in their communities.

They learn about things like integrity, courage, strength and leadership.

As a facilitator, I had the opportunity to directly interact with 13 awesome students this past weekend. Each group was named after a different country – which we used as themes all weekend (Go Switzerland!).

Working with these kids as a facilitator was a much different experience than being an ambassador, but just as rewarding.

We played games and sang cheers, but also had serious discussions about problems they saw in their schools and communities. Not only did they discuss the problems, but how they would solve them.

They met with journalists, educators, law enforcement officers, entrepreneurs and volunteers, all who gave them valuable information to take back to their communities.

They voiced their concerns about government spending, poverty and child trafficking.

They discussed drug and alcohol abuse and why they had too much to lose to mess with either one.

But what continues to amaze me about these students is that they don’t simply discuss the problems. They talk about solutions and how they would go about fixing these issues if given the chance.

They leave HOBY empowered, not only knowing that they can make a difference, but how.

I remember having similar discussions as an ambassador and feeling passionate about going back home to make changes.

And I did.

I know these students felt the same way. I could see that same passion in their eyes, that same desire to take what they learned and apply it to their own communities.

Not only was a fire lit under them, but they learned to network. I have no doubt many of these students will keep in touch and continue to swap ideas long after they leave HOBY.

The reason I know this? Because I did it.

I’ve kept in contact with quite a few students and volunteers I’ve met through HOBY and value their friendship.

It’s not only a place to learn leadership skills, but a place to be yourself. Being an ambassador is like starting with a clean slate of new friends. It’s an environment stripped of peer pressure where students meet others with similar goals and aspirations.

I’ve found that even returning as a volunteer, HOBY offers an environment unparalleled to any other -- and I’m looking forward to many more years of cheering on students to follow their dreams.

To learn more about HOBY, visit www.hoby.org.

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