Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Strong leadership skills are developed with help through positive influence and good role models but sometimes those relationships seem to allude many youth of today. However, in Williamsburg County there is a movement that is focusing on developing homegrown leaders.
In 2012, the local government launched the Williamsburg County Economic Development Strategic Plan. The strategic plan involved more than 500 participants that included input from the citizens, interviews and an online resident survey. The plan targeted sectors that identified potential growth that included customer service centers, food production manufacturing and warehouse distribution centers. However, as with any strategic plan, success will depend on its strong leadership. With that in mind, the Williamsburg HomeTown Chamber partnered with Williamsburg County 4-H to create the Junior Leadership of Williamsburg, a group of local students who have been busy learning valuable life skills that will go a long way in their success as well as their community’s success.
The Junior Leadership of Williamsburg program (JLW) exposes high school juniors to a myriad of activities and projects that focus on career and leadership opportunities. Ten applicants were selected to the six-month program that was launched in January. Applicants were chosen based on GPA, extracurricular activities, and leadership experience.
The program is modeled after Anderson County’s Junior Leadership program, which has been running for 30 years. The group, which consists of four boys and six girls enjoyed touring local industry, county government, the hospital and agriculture related sites. In June the group will travel to Washington DC to participate in a leadership tour.
The JLW program is the first of its kind for Williamsburg and has been embraced by civic, community, and business leaders. Among those is Duke Energy who was one of several industries that sponsored the recent fundraiser “Race to the Top,” a 5-K event that drew over 60 participants. Theo Lane, who is District Manager, Government and Community Relations at Duke Energy spoke at the May 3, event. “Educational achievement and superiority are the first steps in becoming leaders,” said Lane. “The young men and women that you saw here today have already distinguished themselves within the community. I want to applaud them for being a part of this first class, these 10 students who represent our future leadership in Williamsburg County.” Senator Yancey McGill also spoke at the event and pledged funding through a Department of Agriculture grant. “This is one of the finest moments in our community to see all the citizens in Williamsburg and out of Williamsburg participate in assisting opportunities for young people,” said McGill. “Well, done. It was volunteerism at its best.”
On May 5, family and friends gathered for a graduation ceremony held in County Council Chambers at the Williamsburg County Public Services Building where the young leaders were presented a certificate of completion. Afterward they attended a reception at the Clemson Extension Office. For Kingstree Senior High junior Shaun Swinton the experience has proven beneficial in many ways. “The Junior Leadership program really has established in me leadership skills to use within my community and to continue to uplift and encourage other young students to be a part of this great organization,” said Swinton whose aspirations are to be a lawyer. “It has been a great opportunity to participate in this program and I look forward to working with the future 4-H groups.”
Elizabeth Jane Daniel of Johnsonville High School echoed Swinton’s remarks saying the program was valuable in that it helped her to focus on her future. “I am so happy to be a part of this group,” said Daniel. “I believe the skills that I’ve learned through this program will help me be a great leader for Williamsburg County one day.” Daniel said she plans to attend Clemson University where she will major in Agribusiness. And after graduation she will return to her roots, which will fulfill one of the objectives of the program. “I hope to work as a 4-H agent or Williamsburg County Farm Bureau.”
Williamsburg County 4-H Youth Development Agent Jolie Brown who presented a synopsis of the program said they are already planning for next year. “Our hope is that this program will continue to shape and form the future leaders of Williamsburg County,” said Brown who has been the county’s 4-H agent for a little over a year. “Our first class has proven themselves as truly to be leaders and we are so proud of them.”