Friday, September 7, 2018

Local students gain leadership skills, broader understanding of the world through HOBY programs by Elizabeth Richards

Emma Ward and Alexandra Hammond
Two high school students from Windham gained global perspectives and leadership skills at two Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY) programs this year. Alexandra Hammond and Emma Ward participated in both the HOBY Maine weekend seminar in June and the HOBY World Leadership Congress (WLC) in July.  
After attending the state seminar, the girls were eligible to participate in the WLC. This year, the program was on the Loyola College Campus in Chicago. There, the girls spent a week with youth from around the world.

HOBY was founded in 1958 by actor Hugh O’Brian, best known for his role as Wyatt Earp, after he spent time in Africa with humanitarian Albert Schweitzer. HOBY’s mission, according to their website, is “to inspire and develop our global community of youth and volunteers to a life dedicated to leadership, service, and innovation.” More than 10,000 students participate in HOBY programs each year.

Both the state seminar and the WLC offered opportunities to develop critical thinking skills and discover the power that students have to make a difference in their communities.

The state seminar focused on learning about yourself and how you as an individual can help the community, Hammond said, while the WLC took a broader angle, showing students how, together, they could make an impact.  “It was a different take on the same idea,” Hammond said. 
Ward said, “The world [congress] showed us people from everywhere.”  This brought many different points of view, and many different issues to discuss, she added. “We all got together and helped each other.”

During the WLC, the girls learned about their specific leadership styles, and how people with different styles can work together. One of the most difficult aspects, said Hammond, was trying to understand the point of view of students who came from other parts of the US as well as other countries. Though this was a challenge, Hammond also said, “seeing other people’s perspectives was a big benefit.”

Ward said that it was difficult in the beginning to open up and talk to people.  Her group communicated via snapchat prior to the WLC, but the group time at WLC allowed them to connect on a deeper level.  “They say you make really good friends, lifelong friends, but you don’t really realize that until you actually get there,” she said.  “We’re still all talking, which is really nice. Having friends from all over the world is a good thing.”

Participating in HOBY was a great growth experience, Hammond said. “A lot of people are closed minded. Going into it I didn’t think about how closed minded I was but coming out of it I have all these new ways to think about things and ideas on what we can do,” she said.  Students had an opportunity to help each other talk through issues and share what happens in their own school systems.

Ward agreed that the experience offered a broader perspective. “It really just shows you the people of the world, instead of just from Maine, just from Windham,” she said.

The girls also enjoyed getting a glimpse into what a college experience might be like. “We were on campus with people our own age for a week, we had to do things on our own, and being treated like an adult was a good thing,” Hammond said.
HOBY programs extend beyond the weekend or week-long experience, asking students to bring what they’ve learned back into their communities. At the state level, they are asked to commit to completing 100 hours of community service in the year following the seminar. And at the WLC, Hammond said, they were challenged to up that to 250 service hours in a year.

One of the things Hammond would like to do is to work with her school administration to help students have a bigger say in changes that occur.

#HallImplementWard said she’d like to encourage Windham High School to select students to attend. “If you’re thinking about getting involved in your community but you don’t know what to do, this is a good way to learn what you could do for your community and what other people are doing for theirs,” she said.

Both girls are already busy, active students. Hammond participates in Key Club, and plays soccer, softball and basketball. She also volunteers at Windham Primary School sometimes, working with the special education department. She doesn’t have a lot of time, she said, but participating in HOBY showed her where she can combine passions and fit in more community service.

Ward said she doesn’t currently volunteer anywhere. “Going to HOBY showed me that I could,” she said.  She also is active in soccer, lacrosse, and this year will do indoor track.  

Both girls talked about becoming counselors for the state seminar. In order to do so, they have to complete their commitment of  those 100 hours of community service. “I think it would be a good opportunity if we can fit it into our schedules,” Hammond said.  
Attending the WLC was a commitment of both time and considerable expense. The girls had support from the community and their families to participate. Ward thanked Alternative Sprinkler Fire Protection and Birchwood Nursery School for their support, and Hammond thanked HR Block for their sponsorship.  Both girls also expressed gratitude for the numerous friends and family who supported their experience.

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