Teens at all four of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Elkhart County’s clubhouses are stretching their leadership skills. About a dozen teens from Elkhart, Goshen, Middlebury and Nappanee will compete in their respective clubs to become Youth of the Year.
Youth of the Year is Boys & Girls Clubs’ premier leadership program. It celebrates the extraordinary achievements of Club members who embody the values of leadership, service, academic excellence and healthy lifestyles.
Teens throughout the county recently gathered at the Middlebury Club to meet each other, offer support and get guidance from professionals in the community.
“We’re always having team and county-wide events to get to know each other. It helps them support each other through the process and build each other up,” said Rhonda Eicher, Middlebury Club program manager.
This is the first time in several years the teens have been meeting as a county-wide group. Covid concerns kept that from happening since 2020.
“I think knowing who else is competing and which teens are leaders in the county is helpful,” Eicher said.
Each Club also works with the teens independently. One teen from each Club is selected by community judges to represent that Club. Those four teens will then vie to represent Elkhart County early next year. That teen will then move on to a statewide competition — and potentially regional and national competition.
“Some of them are new this year, and it’s a long process. The veterans can help them navigate the process and what they can expect,” Eicher said.
The teens got some tips and advice from Jackie Jerlecki, host of the TV show “Hometown Living” and a former Miss Indiana. She’s also judged the competition in the past. Jerlecki gave them tips on developing an “elevator speech” to introduce themselves to the judges and shared insight on what the judges will be looking to hear.
“It can be a little uncomfortable to talk about yourself and no one really teaches you how to do it,” Jerlecki told the teens. “The judges won’t know what you bring to the table if you are not able to effectively share it.”
Eicher said bringing in people from the community also helps the teens get comfortable talking in front of people they don’t know.
“Having someone from the community come in to help them with interview skills and presentation skills is really valuable as they move through the process,” she said.