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Leadership Conference Inspires Students

Nearly 100 students from three Naperville high schools devoted a Friday morning to learning and practicing leadership. Keynote speaker Tom Carroll engaged them in thinking about the differences between leading and managing, and presented a simple leadership model beginning with leading oneself, then leading others and then leading an organization.

Hosted by the Naperville Park District’s Youth Ambassadors, the Leadership Conference is an annual event designed to gather student leaders from Naperville area high schools. The morning activities include a presentation and then time to meet with each other to brainstorm and share ideas to take back to their schools. 

 Keynote speaker Tom Carroll addresses students at Youth Ambassadors Leadership Conference, held on Feb. 1, 2019 at the Alfred Rubin Riverwalk Community Center. Tom is currently the owner of TMC Leadership Consulting.  For the previous 22 years, he served in numerous leadership roles at RR Donnelley.  Tom’s last role was as the Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer for RR Donnelley, a $12 billion dollar international Fortune 500 Company with approximately 68,000 employees worldwide.  He teaches yoga and meditation in a variety of settings and leadership development at Illinois State University. The Naperville Park District is grateful to KidsMatter for their partnership in bringing Tom Carroll as the 2019 keynote speaker for this conference. 

What is Youth Ambassadors?
Youth Ambassadors is a group of student representatives from Naperville area high schools who meet with Park District staff to plan social or educational activities for their peers.  Each student is nominated by their school’s Youth Ambassadors advisor—a teacher who volunteers as a liaison with the Park District group.

Mr. John Gelsomino, a media communications teacher at Neuqua Valley High School, has served as a Youth Ambassador advisor for the past seven years. In his view, Youth Ambassadors gives kids good leadership experience that takes them beyond their own school. “The Park District listens to the students, and Program Manager Fred Gusel does a good job letting the students voice their opinions.”

A Neuqua Valley senior, Remle, has been a Youth Ambassador for two years. Reflecting on her experience in the program, she said, “It helps build confidence; it gives you a sense that you are part of the community.” 

When asked about the Leadership Conference, she said, “Our keynote speaker today was phenomenal, the best speaker we have had. He taught us that you need to learn to lead yourself first before you can lead others.”

At the Leadership Conference, students talked about how to recruit others for school clubs and activities. Both Remle and Mr. Gelsomino said that attracting kids to activities is getting harder.  Students’ activities like sports seem to demand more time and commitment than they did years ago. And smart phones have changed the culture, even in the past few years, taking more of students’ attention.

Students share ideas to take back to their schools 

What’s Next
The Youth Ambassadors group has found that planning community-wide activities for their peers is becoming more difficult, however, the annual Battle of the Bands contest continues to be popular with students. The event gives high school student rock bands a chance to perform original songs, and it draws friends and families to support the bands. 

Third place winner, The Boys, in 2018 Battle of the Bands

The Youth Ambassadors will meet again later in February to plan spring activities. “We try to think outside the box and watch the trends to follow students’ current interests,” said Remle. 

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