Sandhills leadership activities strengthen youth confidence |

Sandhills leadership activities strengthen youth confidence

Photo courtesy of Bethany Johnston

LINCOLN, Neb. – Gerri Peterson of Mullen has quite a resume at a young age. At 24, she owns a newspaper.

Peterson said the Sandhills Youth Leadership Program contributed to her developing the confidence she needed to buy the Hooker County Tribune in 2008.

“My dream job was to own a small-town newspaper,” Peterson said, adding the leadership program enhanced her confidence and leadership skills, and taught her how to use them.

The leadership program, coordinated by Thedford-based extension educators Bethany Johnston and Sue Pearman, annually brings a selected group of high school students together to learn more about leadership, Johnston said.

The 30 to 35 students participating this school year meet monthly to hear speakers such as extension youth specialists, area community leaders and business representatives, Johnston said. The high schools involved are Sandhills, Thedford, Mullen, Hyannis and Cody-Kilgore.

“We want the students to build skills and use them in school, but we also want them to use those skills in the community,” Johnston said.

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Depending on the school, students participate either voluntarily or are chosen based on application. The idea behind the program, Johnston said, is to encourage high school students to return to their hometowns and become active in businesses or on local governmental boards or committees.

It was Peterson’s desire to return to her hometown after she studied communications at Concordia University in Seward. Now, she is the sole employee at the newspaper, so her responsibilities include not only writing and editing but the business side of it as well.

Topics addressed in the leadership meetings include hands-on team building activities, defining leadership, managing different personalities, consensus building, effectively running a meeting, leadership in county government, community leadership, and time and stress management. The students also participate in a variety of team-building activities.

Monthly speakers include extension educators, county commissioners, local business owners, village clerks, emergency management technicians, fire department volunteers and guidance counselors.

The group also visits local businesses, such as a wine and vinegar maker, a vintage printing press and an art gallery.

In addition to listening to monthly speakers, this year the students are learning more about entrepreneurship, Johnston said. The students have been asked to develop a concept for a business.

“We are having the students design a Web business or a business that could be viable in their hometowns,” Johnston said.