The Character Movement

YFLC Group of students laughing together in front of a youth frontiers banner

I will lead.

“I am a leader.” On paper, it’s a simple phrase. Spoken aloud by hundreds of 11th-grade students from schools across an entire community, it’s deeply moving.

At any Youth Frontiers Leadership Conference (YFLC), the air reverberates with these declarations of character. All students in attendance are there because an educator saw leadership qualities within them. But they are also there for greater reasons: to connect with students they may otherwise only encounter through competition, to build positive relationships, and to develop strategies for improving their schools at this key time in their high school careers.

“The message of the YFLC instills the idea in 11th graders that they have an incredible amount of power and influence on the culture of their schools and what they do with that matters greatly,” said Megan Solemsli-Chrysler, Youth Frontiers’ Programs Department Manager.

First, they recognize themselves as leaders.

“I love this retreat because the definition of leaders is broadly applied,” said Solemsli-Chrysler. “To be a leader is more than being the captain of the sports team or the valedictorian – every single student has the opportunity to lead.”

For many students, the YFLC is the first time they recognize they can use their unique strengths to lead within their school. Given the space to discuss the important issues in their community and dedicated problem-solving time, students get the opportunity to find their voices and lead with character.

Then, they lead.

Throughout the retreat, Retreat Facilitators emphasize that it is imperative for students – and all of us – to heal the world. As members of a community, we all have a responsibility to repair what is broken about it.

“The problem is that there are too many problems for just one person to solve alone. But, there is great power in our ability to make one area better. If each of us makes small changes, one by one our communities can come together to heal and be made whole.”

At the end of the YFLC, we ask students to become purveyors of positive change. We ask them to commit to doing one thing to improve their community – to shift the dialogue from “I should act” to “I will act.” And we ask them to use their position as leaders with their newfound voices to say their commitments aloud in front of their fellow YFLC attendees.

Audio clips of students’ “I will” statements

 

“Publicly sharing their ‘I will’ statements at the end of the day creates accountability and also lets students know that they’re not alone in their efforts.” Being an important part of something bigger is key – and the ripple effect of positive change grows exponentially with each new student who attends a YFLC.

And it is growing. In 2017, Youth Frontiers facilitated a record-breaking eight YFLCs across Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin, reaching 1,411 students. We can’t wait to see what our community looks like when each of those students’ “I will” statements become “I did.”

 


 

Photos from our 2017 Youth Frontiers Leadership Conferences


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