On Nov. 7, 2014, 23 teens involved in 4-H and FFA programs around Virginia gathered at the 4-H conference center in Front Royal for the first-ever Teen Excellence in Leadership Institute multi-event experience. Each of the 23 students were nominated by either their high school agriculture teachers or a 4-H extension agent in order to participate in the program. TELI’s purpose is to bring teens together through leadership development in order to recognize and address global issues facing communities in the commonwealth while working in a collaborative environment.
The November meeting was the first of three opportunities that the students had to interact and engage with each other both as a whole group and then in the smaller teams that they would work with to address community leadership needs in Virginia. Students also worked to develop personalized action plans for engaged leadership while learning about advocacy and outreach. Goals and objectives were set for the students so that it was understood what they would be working towards throughout the experience. The youth also participated in a presentation about communication and media and how that would come into play during their projects. Prior to arriving to the conference, each student took StrengthQuest and KAI which was then discussed and put into practice throughout the weekend.
“I feel like I understand my own personality better and how that all translates to my contribution. I also can identify strengths in others, so I can better communicate with people and see how a team works,” one student said.
In January, the students participated in a virtual meeting with their teams to continue their work on their community leadership plans. On March 13, the teens reconvened at Virginia Tech where the teams presented their projects reports to a panel of experts. The presentations centered around five different issues: food security, bullying, agriculture literacy, educational apathy, and jobs and economic development.
Mary Miller, who sat in on the panel, said, “The Teen Excellence in Leadership Program is simply an outstanding program for the youth of Virginia, and I certainly hope it can continue and grow. You brought young people together from across the state and they cooperated to identify and address real needs in their communities.”
TELI proved to be a dynamic conference in all aspects that was designed to help students have personal insight and then group collaboration towards problem solving. As one student said, “It is all well and good to sit down to talk about what’s wrong with a community, but it is something else entirely to actually plan and develop a solution completely almost to implementation.”
Funding for the TELI program was provided, in part, by the Jack and Helen Tyree 4-H Teen Leadership Endowment in the Virginia 4-H Foundation. This program exemplifies the opportunities the Tyrees wished to provide to young people when they created the fund. TELI provided a great opportunity for students to collaborate and problem-solve with their peers in the context of leadership pertaining to communities in Virginia. Plans are being made for the TELI conference to continue for the upcoming year.